Pope Francis’s global survey of parishes conducted last year revealed sex scandals and negative experiences involving members of the clergy damaged the Catholic Church’s image among its faithful.
“Sex scandals significantly weaken the Church’s moral credibility, above all in North America and northern Europe,” the Vatican said in its Instrumentum Laboris, a text summing up the results of a worldwide survey among Catholic parishes.
Last year the Vatican asked parishioners around the world to give input on issues such as birth control, gay marriage and divorce. The results, which include parishoners’ perceptions of the Church, were made public today in a text that will serve as a starting point for discussions when bishops from around the world meet at the Vatican in October to debate family issues.
The survey confirmed that over a decade of sexual scandals have seriously hurt the Church’s image, affecting its own faithful. In April, Francis asked for forgiveness on behalf of priests who had sexually abused children and said more had to be done to rectify damage done and punish offenders.
The document also said that “some clergy are uncompromising and insensitive in their behavior” in daily interaction with parishoners, contributing to the image of the Church as not being supportive.
Catholics appear to be increasingly at odds with their Church on fundamental issues, according to the survey. While parishioners accept basic doctrine on abortion and marriage between man and woman, the survey found resistance on issues such as birth control, divorce and pre-marital sex. It also found lack of knowledge about church doctrine on more complex issues such as gender theory, which is viewed negatively as a way of undermining sexual identity.
Individualism, long work hours, unemployment, secularism and the negative influence of mass media are identified among reasons for a “growing conflict of values” between Catholics and the society they live in. Possible solutions put forward in the document include better preparation of priests and a more positive and welcoming attitude towards parishioners.
While the Church does not recognize gay unions and is against adoption by gay couples, “a non-judgmental attitude” and pastoral programs directed at them are needed, according to the document, which also recommends welcoming any children of gay, divorced or non-married couples into the Church and into the sacrament of baptism.
In the first year of his pontificate, Francis has defined his expectations for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics denouncing the treatment of African migrants in Europe, demanding policy makers to address the widening global income gap, and more recently taking a strong stance against drug use. Now he is tackling the family viewed as the core of the Catholic community.
Today’s document will serve as the starting point for discussions at the October bishops’ meeting known as a synod, and at a further gathering planned for October 2015 tasked with developing a plan of action for the future.
The results published today show “honesty and rigor in not shying away from any problems, as disturbing or uncomfortable as they may seem,” Monsignor Bruno Forte, theologian and Special Secretary of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family, said in a statement.