The Roman Catholic bishop of St. Petersburg, Fla., says people in his diocese "felt that the Church needed to be prepared to better respond to the reality of same-sex marriage."
In a blog post last week, Bishop Robert Lynch reported on findings of a survey he commissioned in response to a request from Pope Francis to hear from the laity on issues relating to the family before an important global meeting of bishops in October. The Vatican specifically asked bishops to consult the laity on how well the church cares for families headed by same-sex couples and the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics.
Lynch wrote that respondents to the survey, most of whom were over 50 and attend church weekly, said that "the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming."
Further, they "clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman."
Lynch wrote that he has "will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples" and that "all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences."
Earlier this month, Catholic bishops in Germany reported similar findings.
"The Church's statements on premarital sexual relations, homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried, and on birth control, by contrast, are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases," said a report issued February 3 by the German bishopss conference.
German Catholics "regard the legal recognition of same-sex civil partnerships and their equal treatment vis-a-vis marriage as a commandment of justice."
Germany is home to one of the wealthiest and most influential Catholic churches.
A Washington Post poll of Catholics from 12 countries published earlier this week shows overwhelming support for same-sex marriage among Catholics in the U.S. but near-unanimous opposition from Catholics in Africa.
Last fall the Vatican sent a document to national conferences of Catholic bishops, asking them to consult the laity on a range of issues related to the family, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Questions about divorce, contraception, and same-sex marriage, all of which the church opposes, were included. "Does a ministry exist to attend" to same-sex couples? it asked.
It went on to consider children of same-sex parents:
"In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?"
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not commission a national survey, leaving the discovery process up to individual bishops. The request did was made in October and results were due in December, leaving some bishops scrambling on ways to collect the information.
In England and Wales, Catholic bishops launched a website to collect information. Some bishops in the U.S. relied on already collected data, choosing not to consult the faithful in their dioceses. Few have followed Lynch in publishing data.
According to NCR, this was "the first time the church's central hierarchy has asked for such input from grass-roots Catholics since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council."
The synod on families will meet twice, in October 2014 and October 2015.