Nearly a week after news that the Vatican asked for bishops to distribute a questionnaire on issues like contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce, there is no consensus on what that direction means, reports NCR Online.
Moreover, comparing notes from recent Vatican statements, it is hard to decipher whether the call for consultation is unprecedented or something that's happened for decades.
The Vatican's chief spokesman said in an interview over the weekend that the Vatican's request for the world's bishops to survey Catholics on how certain topics affect their lives was part of a habitual "praxis."
Yet the official who sent the questionnaire said Tuesday it is part of a wide-ranging project to reform how the Vatican reaches out to bishops and faithful around the world.
Francis and his Council of Cardinals, a group of eight cardinals who are advising Francis on reforms of the Vatican's central bureaucracy, discussed the synod on the family at their October 1-3 meeting. Sources at the Vatican told NCR following that meeting that the synod on the family would not be business as usual.
The upcoming synod, those sources said, would provide for substantial consultation at the local level, involving dioceses and parishes. NCR was told in early October that Vatican officials had discussed using the Internet to allow rank-and-file Catholics to offer ideas and reactions along the way.
It would seem that the bishops of England and Wales had this idea; they put the Vatican's October 18 questionnaire online.
But when Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri was asked at the Vatican press briefing Tuesday if that action was something other bishops' conferences should emulate, he said the "question answers itself" and was "not worth considering." Baldisseri, the secretary general of the Vatican's Synod of Bishops, was the author of the October 18 letter.
No consensus on meaning of Vatican synod questionnaire (NCR)