The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited dioceses to prepare for the worldwide Synod of Bishops with a set of questions on marriage and family life, but the conference said any questionnaire results will remain private.
Msgr. Patrick Powers, conference general secretary, stressed that the questionnaire -- slightly rearranged and reworded from a questionnaire put out by the Vatican -- is not a survey or poll of Catholic opinion, but a way for bishops to share pastoral insights with Pope Francis and to help bishops plan for their dioceses.
In a statement Tuesday that accompanied the questionnaire, Powers said individual dioceses could decide whom to consult and whether to focus on certain questions. He also asked that responses be forwarded to the bishops' conference, so it could pass them on to the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.
After last October's extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, the Vatican sent the world's bishops' conferences a list of 46 questions on a range of topics, including matters of marriage and sexuality. Those questions, combined with the final report of the 2014 assembly, comprise a preparatory document, known as the lineamenta, or outline or this October's synod.
The Canadian bishops reworked the order of the Vatican questions and revised the wording, "to provide dioceses with a set of questions rephrased and rearranged in a way that more easily facilitates any consultations dioceses may undertake."
"Given the general purpose of each synod as well as of the questions that are part of the lineamenta, the CCCB and Canadian dioceses will continue with the practice of not publishing the responses," Powers said. "Catholic individuals, groups and organizations are welcome to use the questions in the lineamenta for their own reflection."
He also said bishops who decide to do a consultation can look at it as "one approach to understanding how at least some of the faithful in the diocese see a particular question."
"More importantly, many bishops use these consultations to assist the diocese in planning and shaping its own pastoral approach and ministry," he said.
The eight-page questionnaire is arranged in four sections. The first, "Better Identifying the Reality," asks about the impact on the family of cultural changes such as cultural relativism and pluralism. It asks about the challenges posed by the rise of common-law unions, by children, the elderly and the care of people who are ill. The section looks at what marriage and family values they find among young people and married couples and what sense of the presence of God they have in their families.
The section also looks at present pastoral practices for reaching out to those who feel distant from the church and how the church is present in difficult or extreme situations. Questions also concern marriage preparation programs, Christian initiation and other forms of catechesis.
It also asks about pastoral involvement in the lives of couples in "irregular situations" and ways those in civil marriages are guided to the sacrament of matrimony, and how Christian communities are "giving pastoral attention to families and persons with homosexual tendencies."
The second section, "Bringing About Pastoral Conversion," includes the controversial question regarding sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics as well as another question on pastoral care for "family members with homosexual tendencies."
"The synod clearly opted for a pastoral approach that accents the positive: accompaniment, mercy and the goodness of the good news," says an opening paragraph in this section.
The third section, "Proclaiming the Good News," opens with the comment, "Too often, the teaching of the church is understood as a set of rules imposed from without or as a code of conduct considered by many to be out of touch with modern reality."
Questions in the third section concern how to help people understand God's plan for Christian marriage and to find strength through a personal relationship with God, as well as the role of the family in transmitting the faith.
The fourth section, "Paths of Action," seeks practical suggestions on a range of issues from clergy formation, marriage preparation and ministering to the divorced and remarried.