US dioceses consult Catholics on family issues for fall synod

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

by Dennis Coday

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[Editor's Note: This story had been updated.]

Catholics who want to give input to their local bishops ahead of October's global Synod of Bishops on the family have ample opportunity -- but they better hurry.

A preliminary sampling of 21 dioceses around the U.S. found all were seeking input from individual Catholics through online surveys or parish consultations, and information on how to provide that input was easily available through the local diocesan newspaper, the diocesan website, or both.

But most dioceses in this preliminary sampling are closing the consultation in early March, and at least a few are closing the consultations as early as Friday. Many dioceses issued the invitation to participate in surveys in January. Juneau, Alaska, seems to be earliest, issuing an invitation Jan. 14.

Related story: Reform groups' petition asks Vatican to diversify lay voices at family synod

In 2013, Pope Francis initiated a two-year churchwide consultation on the family that included an extraordinary Synod of Bishops, which met at the Vatican in October 2014, and an ordinary Synod of Bishops, which will meet Oct. 4-25 at the Vatican and focus on the theme, "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World."


In December, the Vatican sent the world's bishops' conferences the final report of the 2014 assembly and a list of 46 questions on a range of topics, including matters of marriage and sexuality. Those questions and the report make up a working document, known as the lineamenta, for the next Synod of Bishops. The Vatican asked the world's bishops to consult clergy, laity and knowledgeable institutions in their dioceses about the lineamenta and report their findings to the Vatican's office for the Synod of Bishops by April.

The U.S. bishops' conference staff, which will compile the U.S. report on these consultations and send it to the Vatican, have asked that dioceses submit reports to them no later than March 20.

Below is a table of dioceses the NCR sampled about the consultations as of Monday. If you have information about what your diocese is doing, send that information to NCR will update this data as quickly as we can.

Last year, a similar survey by NCR found a seemingly low participation rate among dioceses seeking direct local input, with some Catholics saying they had difficulty learning how they could join the consultation. The sampling of these 21 dioceses would suggest that the dioceses are doing a better job of getting the word out and providing ways for ordinary Catholics to add their voices to the consultations.

Nineteen dioceses in this sampling invited direct participation of ordinary Catholics. Fifteen dioceses made online surveys; three dioceses made downloadable forms available that had to mailed or emailed back to the diocese; and one diocese -- Venice, Fla. -- didn't have forms to complete but provided instructions on how to find the Vatican questionnaire and where to send written responses to those questions.

Two dioceses announced that a consultation on family issues would take place but did not invite direct participation.

The diocese of Grand Rapids, Mich., has an announcement about the synod questionnaire on its website but says: "The 2015 questionnaire has been provided to those in the diocese serving in roles involving pastoral care and leadership with the request that they prayerfully consider the document and its questions and provide feedback by March 4."

An article in the newspaper of the San Francisco archdiocese said the 2015 consultation would use "an easy-to-use questionnaire to pastors as a means for them to consult widely with their parishioners." The questionnaire was not available on the archdiocese's website.

"The Rome questionnaire is not suitable for wide distribution but may be helpful in pastors' consultations with smaller groups," the article said. It added that the priests' council recommended that catechesis be included in pastors' consultations with parishioners.

The dioceses of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., and Oakland, Calif., also offered "simplified" questions based on the Vatican document.

The diocese of Juneau offered an "annotated" version of the Vatican's 46 questions, giving context and detailed explanations about each question.

To encourage group discussions about the survey questions, the diocese of Scranton, Pa., provided a sample community meeting agenda, a sample focus group process and a smorgasbord of additional resources for marriage and family life.

The Louisville, Ky., archdiocese announced: "In addition receiving consultation from the online questionnaire, Archbishop [Joseph] Kurtz will be consulting with the Pastoral Council of the Archdiocese, the Priests' Council, and a panel of experts serving in family ministries, counseling, and the Marriage Tribunal."

In the introduction to its online survey, the Rochester, N.Y, diocese directed priests, pastoral administrators and parish staff to "please use the survey link sent directly to you via e-mail."

The Venice, Fla., diocese said along with soliciting individual responses, Bishop Frank Dewane "has communicated with the Pastors, Parochial Administrators, and Parochial Vicars of the Diocese asking for their observations made in consultation with their local Parish councils and other parish groups."

A Feb. 6 online column by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez reflecting on the Mass he would celebrate in two days with married couples celebrating their 25th, 50th and 60th wedding anniversary gave an impetus to announce his seeking input for the October synod. He also announced a novena beginning Feb. 5 to pray for the success of the synod and encouraged people to join it.

The introduction on the website for the Philadelphia archdiocese's questionnaire includes this note: "Pastors, academic leaders, leaders of Catholic agencies and organizations, leaders of religious congregations and lay movements and ecclesial associations, are asked to distribute this consultation as widely as possible."

Nearly every diocese included instructions similar to these from Pittsburgh: "The questions are not a poll or a survey on Church teaching. This is an opportunity ... to reflect and respond thoughtfully on how the Church can serve families in their mission to love." And from Raleigh, N.C.: "The survey is not a public opinion poll, but intended to be a prayerful reflection and response to challenges facing family life."

All the instructions said each diocese would compile and summarize the results and forward a report to the U.S. bishops' conference, which in turn would compile and summarize and send a single U.S. report to the Vatican.

In this sampling of dioceses, only Oakland indicated it had further plans for the consultation. An article about the survey in that diocese's newspaper said:

When the responses are received and tabulated, Father [Dan] Danielson will be taking those creative thoughts one step further: He will be creating a format for parishes to use to address those issues.

One example, he said, might be "How can marriage preparation be improved." "It's probably been 20 years since some parishes have looked at programs for married people."

Mimi Streett, coordinator of marriage and family life for the diocese, agrees that the information will be useful in creating and supporting future programs.

… "We hope these questions will cause you to reflect on these very serious topics and challenge you to prayerfully respond so that not only the synod will benefit but also our diocese," she said. "This is your opportunity to take an active role in responding to the needs of those around us. This office will be using your responses to better meet your needs and those of your parish and community."

NCR will continue to collect data on consultations in individual dioceses. If you have information from your locale, send it to

Diocese Invited Deadline Online Details Spanish Feedback Other information
Belleville, Ill 1/17/2015 ? Yes Invitation in diocesan newspaper -- No  
Cincinnati ? 3/1/2015 Yes Invitation to participate -- No  
Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind. 1/25/2015 2/25/2015 Yes Input sought from faithful of the diocese -- No Simplified to 16 questions. Questions printed in diocesan newspaper.
Grand Rapids, Mich. ? 3/4/2015 No Preparatory questionnaire for 2015 family synod -- No Announcement of questionnaire for only.
Juneau, Alaska 1/14/2015 3/5/2015 No Invitation to participate in Vatican synod survey on the family -- No Forms to download and return by mail
Los Angeles ? 3/6/2015 Yes Newspaper article about the consultation Yes No  
Louisville, Ky. ? 3/7/20105 Yes Take the online questionnaire Yes No Other consultations announced.
Naples, Fla ? 2/20/2015 No Instructions for those wanting to provide input Yes No No forms available. Input must be mailed or emailed
Oakland, Calif. 2/9/2015 2/23/2015 Yes Diocese to survey faithful on the family, church Yes Yes Questionnaire rewritten to 21 questions
Omaha, Neb. 2/6/2015 2/20/2015 Yes Online questions available -- No Newspaper announcement
Philadelphia 1/29/2015 3/9/2015 Yes Instrument to engage local input Yes No  
Phoenix 2/3/2015 2/22/2015 Yes Take the 2015 questionnaire on the synod Yes No  
Pittsburgh 2/6/2015 2/20/2015 Yes Questions to prepare for 2015 synod on the family -- No Report from 2014 questionnaire consultation made available for study.
Portland, Maine* ? 3/5/2015 Yes Invitation to participate in online survey Yes No  
Raleigh, N.C. 1/28/2015 2/15/2015 Yes Lay faithful invited to answer online questionnaire -- No  
Rochester, N.Y. 1/14/2015 3/1/2015 Yes Newspaper article about consultation -- No Separate survey sent to priests, pastoral administrators and parish staff
San Bernardino, Calif. ? 2/20/2015 No PDF available for download Yes No  
San Francisco, Calif. 1/28/2015 ? No Newspaper story about consultation -- No No information found on diocesan website
Scranton, Pa.* 1/29/2015 3/6/2015 Yes Invitation to participate Yes No Resources for group and organizational input
Springfield, Ill. 2/9/205 3/1/2015 Yes Invitation to participate -- No  
Syracuse, N.Y. ? 2/27/2015 No Newspaper article about consultation -- No PDF available for download, return by mail

If you have information from your locale, send it to

*An earlier version of this story named the incorrect state.

[Dennis Coday is NCR editor. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @dcoday.]

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