This letter expresses our concern that the Lineamenta Questionnaire released by the Vatican is totally unworkable. From our monitoring, we know that the Vatican questionniare is not being promoted on most diocesan and episcopal websites and, consequently, is undermining the desire of Pope Francis to hear from all levels of the Faithful. In its place CCRI is offering to release an Alternative Living Poll.

Please read our open letter and then fill out the form at the bottom of the page to sign the letter yourself.

Thank you!

Dear Pope Francis:

In setting a new course for the Church, you have described it as a field hospital to heal the wounded. By your great sensitivity, you have captivated the hearts of many, both in and out of the Church. You have certainly captured the support of us, Catholic Church Reform International, a network spanning 65 countries that shares your vision of a Church involving all God’s people and offering more compassionate and pastoral care of families in the challenges they face daily.

We were especially hopeful when you called for an Extraordinary Synod on the Family and were pleased to be able to present our recommendations to you and the Secretary General of the Synod. In a questionnaire that we and a number of reform groups released, we found that our worldwide supporters felt free to respond frankly and were delighted to see some of their responses embodied in the Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris. Now that the results of that Synod have been made known, while we are pleased that some progress has been made, we wish to express our deep concern over deficiencies we see in the official planning for the Ordinary Assembly in October 2015.

The Extraordinary Assembly of October 2014 was a gathering of mostly bishops who have never experienced the demands (and the joys!) of raising a family in the modern world. This was an evident weakness which should be corrected by inviting a much broader representation of diverse families for the Ordinary Assembly. In preparing for it, your express wish is for the bishops to listen to their people. However, the Synod Secretariat has prepared and circulated a Lineamenta questionnaire with 46 questions (actually 94), all requiring essay-type answers. We’re convinced that it will turn the ordinary faithful away from expressing their views and reflections. In fact, it seems designed to thwart your express wish to hear the lived experience of married couples and families. The questionnaire is far too complex and, with its abstract language and juridical views of marriage, it is largely incomprehensible to even the most well educated Catholics. It will not gather the much-need input from Catholic families themselves.

Consider, e.g., question #17: What initiatives can lead people to understand the value of an indissoluble …marriage…? Of course marriage should be strengthened and greater preparation be given. But the Lineamenta questionnaire suggests that if people only understood better, fewer marriages would end in divorce. It skirts the fact that many marriages and family lives have and will inevitably be broken down and, even so, many individuals concerned still long to be part of the Church and to receive the Eucharist and other Sacraments. Unfortunately, the Lineamenta questionnaire is self-defeating.

CCRI has been monitoring the diocesan response in many countries since the Lineamenta was circulated and we are hardpressed to find local bishops who are using its questionnaire. They are either using another instrument or not seeking reflections from the people at all. In other cases the bishops are giving their people very little time or encouragement to respond. We are also concerned that in those rare instances where bishops do seek reflections, they are only going to those who regularly attend Mass in parishes. The Questionnaire will not reach the huge numbers of Catholics who have drifted away from the Church and regular Mass attendance, often because of the very marriage and family issues which are at the core of the Synod. Many, like us, are disheartened by the Church’s lack of understanding of the real situation of families, scandalized by the Synod’s failure to even consider the effect of the sexual abuse by priests on families, and frustrated by the Church’s refusal to confront the gnawing issue of gender equality. A Synod which does not address these issues with courage and honesty will lack credibility.

If our Church is to be reformed and the Synod objective is “to look at the reality of the family today in all its complexities” as it claims, an alternative means of gathering the lived experiences of married couples and families is needed. To help with this, Catholic Church Reform International is planning to develop a down-to-earth, simple, inclusive, and non-directive “living poll.” It will be an invitation to all the baptized to share with the Synod their lived experience of marriage and family in the light of their understanding of the Gospel:  “How have they benefitted from the teachings of the Church, or how has it caused difficulties or harm?” Participants will be invited to write a living testimony to their understandings, experience, and hopes. They will be asked for suggestions for change. “If you were once a participatory practicing Catholic but have left the Church, what caused you to leave, what would bring you back?” 

A pseudo-survey, which pretends it already has the answers, is useless. What is needed is something out of the box, vibrant and surprising. It should not try to pre-form people’s ideas, but in a similar fashion to the manner in which you conducted the Extraordinary Synod, the questionnaire should allow respondents to voice their personal sense of the faith and how they understand marriage and family. With freedom of expresssion in such a survey, new perspectives will emerge, and the Church may find fresh ways of showing compassion and providing pastoral care. Clearly, the Lineamenta will not do this. 

Sadly, there are bishops and clergy who do not share your enthusiasm for involving all of God’s people. Many are steeped in clericalism and fear the voices of their people. Paradoxically, the Lineamenta , which was meant to invite those voices, has effectively silenced them, and has given those bishops who do not want to listen an excuse not to invite them. In the absence of a strong voice of the Faithful, bishops will be free to interpret and report the limited responses to align with their own viewpoint – the very thing you have said you don’t want. We cannot help but feel that those who drafted the Lineamenta have intentionally or unintentionally sabotaged your desire to hear from the ordinary Faithful. Please avert this impending tragedy by introducing new lines of communication. Your hope is for the bishops to reach consensus on those difficult challenges which confront couples and families on a daily basis and advise you on practical and compassionate solutions. This outcome is highly improbable and, without the reflections of the Faithful, it is not even possible.

With the intention of ensuring that the views of the Faithful are widely listened to as you have asked, please, Pope Francis, we urge you, take a strong leadership role in setting the Church’s priorities for the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod. Demonstrate what Jesus would do to respond to the needs of families today,in all their diversities and across the world. If the Church is to be a credible instrument of the Gospel, there must be a structural change in the way the Church operates today, namely, that all the baptized, as is their right, have a full say in the governance of the Church.

We are not leaving you alone to face these challenges. Please know that we stand with you and are investing hundreds of hours in this project to support you and all who share your vision in bringing deep-rooted reform to our Church. We would appreciate a response to let us know that this letter has reached you and that you support our project. We ask the Holy Spirit for every blessing to sustain you in the year ahead.

Supporters of Catholic Church Reform Int’l

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