Pope Francis' latest surprise: a survey on the modern family (World News via NBC News)

Pope Francis is shaking things up again.

The pontiff with a penchant for surprises is making new waves by launching a survey of his flock on issues facing modern families — from gay marriage to divorce.

Very specific questions are being sent to parishes around the globe in preparation for next year's synod of bishops, a grassroots effort that experts say is unprecedented.

"It's fascinating," said Thomas Groome, a professor of theology at Boston College.

"It's pretty astonishing," agreed Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the gay Catholic organization DignityUSA.

Vatican watchers say Francis' polling attempt is extraordinary on two levels: first, because it seeks input from rank-and-file Roman Catholics and second, because it touches on issues that might have been considered off-limits in past papacies.

The document sent to every nation's conference of bishops notes that the ancient church and its members are grappling with "concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago."

Same-sex unions, mixed marriages, single-parent families and surrogate mothers are all mentioned in the prelude to a list of questions that get into the nitty-gritty of 21st century life:

  • "What pastoral attention can be given to people who live in these types of [same-sex] union?"
  • "In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?"
  • "Do [the divorced and remarried] feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?"
  • "In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with."

The survey is the latest sign of Francis' willingness to engage ordinary Catholics and promote a less judgmental approach to hot-button social issues.

Read the rest here.


Honestly, I don't know how seriously to take this.  Pope Francis is clearly attempting to engage his flock, looking for means for communication and dialogue, yet the catholic church remains the dogma- and dicta-ridden monolith that it has been for two millennia.  It's almost as though he's looking for ways to spin catholic doctrine so that there can be at least some engagement between it and, for instance, same-sex catholic partners or divorced catholics ... or even those who actively use birth control.

The problem is that, without meaningful change in the practices of Vatican City, such surveys and outreach programs wind up being exercises in futility and insult to those who are aggrieved by an organization more concerned with its own rules and regulations than it is with the people it is supposedly dedicated to ministering to.

Francis can take all the surveys he wants to ... but until his side of the bargaining table demonstrates a willingness to change, all those surveys said is: "More Family Feud."

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