As U.S. dioceses continue their Vatican-ordered consultations for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family, a national clergy group has launched its own questionnaire in an effort to highlight the issues most pressing to priests.
The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests sent a synod survey on Jan. 31 to its 1,000-plus members, asking each not to answer the 46 questions presented in the synod’s working document, the lineamenta, but instead to rank them in importance on a seven-point scale from “not important” to “essential.” Each question also offers comment space for priests to expand on those questions they deemed as essential.
The instructions for the survey also ask respondents to keep in mind two “preliminary” questions posed by the synod document: Does the descriptions of family issues in the lineamenta correspond to today’s church and society? And what aspects are missing that should be included?
The exercise, said Fr. Bernard Survil, an association board member, allows the priests to show which questions they as a group view as most important for the synod to discuss, and ultimately, answer.
“We know that none of us are going to be delegates, but we do want to have input,” said Survil, who is a priest in the Greensburg, Pa., diocese.
“We want to let our delegates know … that this is what you should be focusing on,” he added.
While the association encourages priests to participate in their own diocesan initiatives for the synod, Survil said the AUSCP survey offers another way to ensure that their voice isn’t lost in the discussion.
“If the Vatican is announcing a synod and asking for consultation, we’re going to do it in the best way possible, to make as loud a noise as possible,” he said.
As of Feb. 19, 352 priests from 47 dioceses had responded to the survey -- or about a third of the association’s membership. A day later, the association launched “Phase II” of its survey, extending the invite to all U.S. priests, emailing it to a list of 9,000. It will remain open through March 15.
At that point, comment analysis teams, or CATs as Survil calls them, will begin the same process that is currently underway for the members’ responses: collect all the responses to each of the 46 questions and write an abstract for each. Each CAT team will consist of a member-priest and a married couple or widow/widower.
Part of the reason the priests association chose not to have priests answer the synod questions was the time associated with completing such a task. A priest from the Cheyenne, Mont., diocese told Survil that it took him five hours to answer all 46 questions. In the instructions for its online survey, the Charlotte, N.C., diocese estimated two hours to complete.
The association plans to use the two phase reports to make a comparison between how their members’ priorities for the synod line up with those of the larger body of U.S. priests. Two or three members will then deliver the reports to Rome in person sometime in mid-April -- the deadline given by the Vatican for synod reports. In addition, five member-priests will accompany a married couple to Rome for five days in October.
The association is considering publishing a summary of its final report at some point after it is presented in the Vatican.
As for the synod consultation process itself, Survil said it shows that “there’s a new openness” and “an insistence on transparency.”
“I think all of us have to appreciate that we feel that we’re more of a part of it than we ever were since the synod process got going after Vatican Council II,” he said.
The analysis of the member-priests’ rankings of the synod questions and related comments is in the early stages. The survey also asked some brief demographic information that included a question on how their local bishop was seeking input for his own report. Forty-four percent of the priests who replied said their bishop had consulted clergy, while 35 percent said they had not.
“It’s that 35 percent that we’re especially trying to follow up on … to give a voice to those priests who haven’t even been consulted,” said Survil, whose own Greensburg diocese has not informed priests of any synod-related efforts.
Asked whether they knew if lay people had been consulted, 26 percent of the priests replied they have, 36 percent said they had not, and 37 percent said they didn’t know.