A CALL TO ACTION, a group of Catholics campaigning for greater openness and dialogue in the Roman Catholic Church, is calling for the results of a consultation on sexual ethics to be released.
The survey was commissioned by Pope Francis and sent to Catholic bishops around the world last November, with instructions to consult as widely as possible.
It tackled sensitive subjects such as contraception, cohabitation, divorce and homosexuality.
BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Piggott said the 39-question survey – designed to inform a Vatican conference on family life in October – had been enthusiastically greeted by rank-and-file Catholics.
Many saw the inclusion of such questions as a sign that Church teaching in such difficult areas might be reformed, and that lay people might be allowed a greater say in how the Church was governed.
But the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has turned down a request by members for the consultation results to be made public, although bishops in other countries have published their findings.
Pope Francis is calling bishops to Rome in October to discuss possible reform that considers modern social realities.
The consultation is part of the preparation for an extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on sexual ethics, marriage and family.
A Call To Action describe themselves as ‘brought together by our love of Christ’s church and our anxiety about its future’, desiring ‘to help create a climate of trust and respect for all where this dialogue may be fostered.’
Jean Riordan, chair of the group’s national leaders team, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme last Thursday that Church teaching ‘should be formed by consulting’.
She added that refusing to publish the results would suggest the Church was not sincere about sharing responsibility with lay people, and people who had completed this ‘challenging’ questionnaire would be saddened and perplexed if the results were withheld.
But Father Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, defended the decision, as orders had come from the Pope, via a senior cardinal, that the information should not be made public until after October.
He said that if the information was disclosed it could result in the views of bishops becoming ‘predetermined’ ahead of the upcoming Synod.
Fr Stock acknowledged there were ‘great expectations’ of the process, but insisted:
‘The reflection of the bishops during the Synod must not be predetermined by individual groups or by the concerns of northern Europe alone.’
This echoes recent statements by the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion of churches worldwide, that Christians in some African nations could be endangered if Anglican priests in Britain bless same-sex unions.
Other Catholic Churches which have published summaries of the responses, including those in Germany and Austria, have described a wide gap between Church teaching and the behaviour of ordinary Catholics.
However, Fr Stock ruled out similar action in England and Wales.
The Pope has signalled greater openness, and has said the Catholic Church is too tied up in ‘small-minded rules’.
As an openly gay man, in the first civil partnership to be registered in a UK place of worship, and a former trainee Catholic priest, the BBC approached me for my comments on this story. You can hear extracts of interviews with me and other Catholics from Liverpool in these audio clips below:
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday 17 April 2014.
BBC Religious Affairs Correspondent Robert Piggott interviews Liverpool Catholics:
BBC Radio 4 presenter Evan Davis interviews Fr Marcus Stock and Jean Davis:
BBC Radio Merseyside discussion inc. extract of the Radio 4 report: