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Pope Francis wants surveys

/ 11:16 PM December 06, 2013

I might have guessed that the main reason for my being invited to the Loyola School of Theology (LST) was that Pope Francis, bless his kind heart, had just sent Catholic bishops everywhere a set of questions, with a directive to answer these right away. Some questions are on the activities of the bishops, but those on the state of the flock are best answered by scientific surveys.

What I presented at LST this week was “Filipino religiosity is different,” because it happens to be my favorite way of summarizing the SWS surveys of religion over the years.  Surveys comparing the Philippines (84 percent Catholic) with Poland (91 percent), Italy (90), Mexico (80), Spain (78 ), and the United States (26) show Filipinos as the most religious, by far.

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In the Philippines, 83 percent have no doubt that God exists; 2 percent are agnostics; only 1 percent are atheists. In Mexico, Poland and the United States, 61-63 percent are full believers, and 3 percent are atheists.  Italy has 41 percent full believers and 6 percent atheists.  Spain has 38 percent full believers and 10 percent atheists.  In religiosity, Filipinos are most similar to Americans, even though so many Americans are Protestants, and most unlike Spaniards, even though our Christianity originally came from Spain.

I also showed Filipino Catholics as the least supportive of liberalization in the Church—for instance, only 20 percent favoring permission for priests to marry, versus 50 percent among Poles, 67-69 percent among Italians and Americans, and 79 percent or more among Spaniards, Irish, and Germans.  All these numbers are for Catholics only.

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Filipino Catholics are likewise the most resistant, compared to Catholics elsewhere, to allowing women to be ordained as priests, to having bishops elected locally rather than appointed by the pope, and to having the pope be more concerned about what life is like for ordinary people than with religious issues.

I enjoyed visiting LST last Wednesday. For one who never studied theology, it was a surprise to see my slot called “Theological Hour,” and an unexpected honor to find the venerables Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ, and Fr. John Carroll, SJ, and activist-sociologists Mary Racelis and Marichi Guevara, in the audience.

What Pope Francis wants. On Thursday, however, I saw for the first time that the Pope has some very specific questions, including:

1. “Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church?  Can you approximate a percentage?”

2. “Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist?  Are reliable statistics available?”

3. “Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church?  Can you approximate a percentage?”

4. “In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation?  Are [they] aware of it?  Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?”

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5. On irregular marriages, “what is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?  How do parents in these situations approach the Church?  What do they ask?  Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?”

On those five matters, SWS has done surveys relevant (though not as detailed as one might like) to the first three, but not to the last two.

Regarding same-sex unions, the Pope asks if the country has a law recognizing such civil unions, what is the attitude of the local Church toward the State as the promoter of such unions and toward the people in such unions, what pastoral attention can be given to such people, and what can be done to transmit the faith to the children adopted by them.  Interestingly, he does not ask for any statistics about such unions.

I have pointed out items where Pope Francis specifically asks for quantification.  Additional headings for his questions include “The diffusion of the teachings on the family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium,” “Marriage according to the Natural Law,” “The pastoral care of the family in evangelization,” “The openness of the married couple to life,” and “The relationship between the family and the person.”

In my reading of the questions and statements under each heading, I see no phrasings that suggest papal overconcern with correcting “wrong” attitudes of the people, or with moving them from erroneous paths to correct ones.  The tone strikes me as always one of a desire to help people with the problems they face, in the situations they are in, rather than to chastise people for “evils” they do. I like to think that this tone is personal to Francis.

The long shopping list of questions, sent to bishops worldwide last October, is meant for the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that the Pope has set for Oct. 5-19, 2014, on the theme “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The list was sent by the synod’s general secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, with the hope that the bishops would take “the most brief and practical institutional process” to enable submission of a synthesis of their responses by the end of January.

The bishops have no time to spare.  Pope Francis is waiting.  And he is more concerned with the people’s practices than with their beliefs.

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Contact SWS: or [email protected]

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