VATICAN CITY – New surveys commissioned by the Vatican show that the vast majority of Catholics in Germany and Switzerland reject church teaching on contraception, sexual morality, gay unions and divorce, findings remarkable both in their similarity and in the fact that they were even publicized.
The Vatican took the unusual step of commissioning the surveys ahead of a major meeting of bishops that Pope Francis has called for October to discuss family issues. The poll was sent last year to every national conference of bishops with a request to share it widely among Catholic institutions, parishes and individuals.
This week, German and Swiss bishops reported the results: The church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce were rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.
Also surprising was the eagerness with which the bishops publicized the results. The German bishops’ conference released them simultaneously in German, Italian and English on their website, and the Swiss held a press conference.
The German church has been at the forefront of pushing boundaries on core church teachings concerning divorced and remarried Catholics, an issue Francis has said greatly pains him. It is expected to feature prominently in the October meeting.
The German bishops’ survey made clear: “The church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control … are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases.”
The Swiss bishops went further, saying the church’s very mission was being threatened by its insistence on such directives. It’s an issue Francis himself has weighed in on, decrying the church’s “obsession” with small-minded rules.
By contrast, U.S. dioceses haven’t reported the results of their surveys in any detail.