NY: Vatican Survey & "Francis Effect"

Dec 9, 2013

Pope Francis raised eyebrows when he announced the Vatican would conduct a global survey. The poll has made somewhat of a "soft landing" in North America.

Catholics worldwide have been asked to give their opinions on issues impacting the modern-day church. Pope Francis launched the unprecedented questionnaire in November.  The survey appears at a time when many Catholics are divided on topics like gay marriage, divorce, birth control, and other social matters. Here's a sample question: Among other things, "What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments?" and "Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same sex and equating it in some way to marriage?"

The poll also asks respondents to share their feelings about the current official total ban on the use of contraceptives.

The Syracuse and Albany Roman Catholic Diocese are just two of many nationwide that posted the pope's questionnaire on their respective websites.    Danielle Cummings is Assistant Chancellor for the Roman Catholic diocese of Syracuse.   "The people of the Diocese of Syracuse have responded very well to this invitation. They're excited, and invested in participating in this consultation. Bishop Cunningham and his staff will compile the answers, and present it in the form of a summary and report and submit it to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to be forwarded to the general secretary of the synod of bishops."

A Synod is usually held every two or three years. Representatives of the bishops meet with the pope to discuss church issues.  Ken Goldfarb, Communications Director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, explains that the survey will help prepare for the Synod. He says Bishop Howard Hubbard also posted the survey online.  "... in addition the bishop has sought input from councils and the Diocesan office for family life. He'll then synthesize all of the responses received and then, as requested by the Holy See, submit his report for the Synod of Bishops, which Pope Francis will convene in October of next year., on the topic of pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”

The bishops have until January to gather responses, which will be sent to the Vatican ahead of next fall's meeting on Catholic family life.

Religious observers note the papal survey should not be seen as a sign that Church doctrine on those or any social issues will change. Still, Pope Francis has shaken up the Vatican as a hands-on religious leader whose recent criticism of capitalism resonated with advocates for the poor.

Survey aside, public perception of Pope Francis in the United States appears somewhat less enthusiastic than in other countries. A poll out in late November from the Pew Research Center found the so-called  “Francis Effect” has been negligible here, having "little or no impact" on U.S. Catholics.  Another poll, conducted November 28th through December 2nd, showed the population divided equally: the latest YouGov Omnibus survey found half of Americans (50 percent) have a positive impression of Pope Francis.