About 5,000 people have filled in the bishops’ online questionnaire on family life, a bishops’ conference official has said.
Elizabeth Davies, marriage and family life project officer, said 15,000 people had accessed the survey so far but only a third of those had submitted responses to the questions. About 11,500 had got as far as filling in their age.
She said a few responses had been “a bit mischievous” and some respondents had declared themselves to be non-Catholic. She emphasised, though, that the responses had been “very thoughtful”.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the bishops’ conference, said at a press conference that the survey formed part of Pope Francis’s efforts to “refresh” the Church’s pastoral care.
He said the aim was not to “reshape a policy” as if it were a government consultation but rather to help people “live faithfully to the teachings of the Church”.
The archbishop said that, from the synod, “what I would expect is a development of that long tradition of pastoral care which has diminished a bit in the last 30 or 40 years”.
He said: “The hard work that most priests spend their time doing is accompanying people through difficult situations.” In the last few decades, though, “we have been very tied up with ideas and notions”.
The archbishop cited the parable of the two men walking to Emmaus. Many people, like them, were walking away from the Church today, he said. “Our job is to walk alongside them,” he said.
He said Jesus “didn’t say [to them], ‘no, turn around, get back to Jerusalem where you should be’. He walks with them and through that accompaniment there comes a moment when the two people recognise in their lives the presence of God and the workings of grace.”
The findings of the questionnaire will be passed on to the synod council in January.