Completing the Vatican questionnaire

The Vatican needs to hear from Catholics

All over the country parishes are inviting their members to take part in a Vatican-sponsored survey on the family ahead of the Extraordinary Synod on the family that will take place in Rome next October.

It is extremely important right at the outset to state that the questionnaire prepared by the Vatican takes the Church’s key teachings on the family as a given. It is not inviting Catholics to consider how the teachings might be changed.

For example, the questionnaire does not hint at a change to the teaching on artificial contraception, or divorce, or marriage understood as being the union of a man and a woman by its very nature.

Instead, it wants to know how well those teachings are understood and accepted, how well they are being taught, and how the Church might improve its pastoral outreach to people who find themselves in all kinds of different family situations.


The questionnaire is complex in parts and therefore some parishes have offered a simplified version to parishioners. My own parish has done this for example, and its version of the questionnaire is true in spirit to the original.

The same cannot be said of all the simplified questionnaires. The one on offer from the Association of Catholic Priests is true to the original for the most part, but in certain areas departs far from the original, especially in the section of same-sex marriage.

The Vatican questionnaire asks if “there is a law in your country recognising civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?”

Same-sex couples

The ACP questionnaire asks: “Is there a law in your country recognising marriage equality for same-sex couples?” It also asks: “How important is marriage equality to you?”

The term ‘marriage equality’ is incredibly leading and effectively invites people to see same-sex marriage as a good thing.

The ACP questionnaire also asks people to estimate the percentage of children who were born to and are being raised by same-sex couples.

Just like the other two questions, this one is a total invention of the ACP.

About half of those who have completed the ACP survey put the number at under 10pc. In fact, it is a fraction of one percent.


Another invented question reads, ‘”How important is the availability of contraception to you and your community?”

There is also an odd change made to the Vatican’s question on a couple’s openness to having children.

The Vatican asks: “How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?”

The ACP changes this to: “How can a more open attitude towards reproduction be fostered in the Church?”

In any event, the questionnaire is there to be answered and the deadlines to answer it, set for the most part by the various dioceses and parishes, are fast closing or have already closed. So if you want to take part, there is no time to lose.

The version of the questionnaire prepared by my own parish (see link below) is a good, user-friendly one in my view. Keep in mind that no-one is obliged to answer all the questions. All a person has to do is fill in the ones they feel most competent to answer.

Church teaching

Many of the questions simply ask you how well the Church’s teaching is understood and accepted in a given area of family life. These are extremely easy to answer.

For the most part, of course, the teachings are not well understood and are often not accepted. For example, how many Catholics can explain why marriage is, by its very nature, the union of one man and one woman?

How many Catholics have ever had this teaching properly explained to them?

How many Catholics properly understand the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and had this properly explained to them?

How many understand the teaching on contraception? How many have ever heard this explained to them?

How many of them have a proper grasp of what natural family planning is, or how to practise it?


The questionnaire asks how many divorced and separated Catholics live in your “particular Church”. The answer is that there are 250,000 divorce and separated people in Ireland. But it is not known how many of these are practising Catholics and how many, in the case of divorced and remarried Catholics are anxious to receive Communion.

It asks how many couples are cohabiting. The answer is around 13 percent. But these are overwhelmingly younger couples. Again, it is not known what percentage of these  couples are practising Catholics, although we do know that many of them still want to get married in a church.

Pastoral outreach

As mentioned, a great deal of the questionnaire is concerned with how to improve the Church’s pastoral outreach to people in various family situations, and also with how to improve the family’s ability to transmit the faith.

Catholic parents who have raised children and have managed to successfully transmit the faith to their children almost have a duty to take part in the survey. Other parents need to learn how they did it, how they overcame the odds and raised children who became practising Catholics.

Others who are almost duty-bound to complete the survey are those who teach what they Church has to say on the family in its fullness and without compromise but do so in a pastorally sensitive way.

The two opposite errors are to teach without compromise in a pastorally insensitive way, or to be pastorally sensitive but to badly compromise the integrity of the Gospel.

Family life

However, to my mind the big underlying problem is that not enough Catholics have any proper grasp of what the Church has to say about all the manifold aspects of family life.

There can’t be even the beginnings of a proper pastoral response to the family unless we understand the principles on which that pastoral response should be based.

In other words, what the Vatican needs to hear loud and clear from Catholics is that the Church needs to do a far better job at teaching the basics of the faith and how these affect and are relevant to the family.


(The abovementioned simplified version of the questionnaire can be found at: www.stjohnsclontarf.ieon the homepage. It should be returned to your own parish if the deadline is not already passed).