Tag Archives: vatican

After protest, Vatican floats balloons instead of releases doves

Dove lovers, rejoice.

Balloons, not doves, were released as a gesture of peace on Jan. 25 in St. Peter’s Square, a year after an attack by a seagull and a crow on the symbolic birds sparked protests by animal rights groups.

For many years children, flanking the pope at a window of the papal studio overlooking the square, have released a pair of doves on the last Sunday in January.

The Catholic Church traditionally dedicates January to peace themes.

Last year, the feel-good practice became a public relations disaster. After the children with Pope Francis tossed a pair of doves from the window, first a seagull and then a crow swept down and attacked the doves. Their ultimate fate was unknown.

Dancing priests from Milwaukee, New York state become Internet sensation

A video of a pair of dueling, dancing American priests studying in Rome has gone viral, following in the footsteps of a now-famous Italian nun whose Alicia Keyes-esque voice won her a singing contest and a record contract.

The Rev. David Rider, 29, of Hyde Park, New York, and the Rev. John Gibson, 28, of Milwaukee, first shot to Internet fame when they were filmed in April during a fundraiser at the North American College, the elite American seminary up the hill from the Vatican.

Rider warmed up the crowd with a lively tap-dance routine, only to be pushed aside by Gibson’s fast-footed Irish dance. Soon they were battling it out, trying to impress the crowd.

At the back of the room, journalist Joan Lewis recorded the event and later posted on YouTube.

“All of a sudden the numbers started rising and rising,” Lewis told The Associated Press.

Their Internet success has drawn comparisons to Sr. Cristina Scuccia, who won the Italian edition of “The Voice” in June with a series of unadorned pop song performances, in full habit. Her first album features a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.”

As with Scuccia, the priests’ online popularity was tinged with criticism. Some commentators wrote that the priests shouldn’t have been dancing under a crucifix and a painting of Pope Francis, calling it “disrespectful.”

“We would just refer them to the Bible,” Rider says, “where the Lord tells us to live with joy.”

Catholic Bishops vote down Vatican proposal to be more welcoming of gay

Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

The bishops approved a final report covering a host of issues related to Catholic family life, acknowledging there were “positive elements” in civil heterosexual unions outside the church and even in cases when men and women were living together outside marriage.

They also said the church must respect Catholics in their moral evaluation of “methods used to regulate births,” a seemingly significant deviation from church teaching barring any form of artificial contraception.

But the bishops failed to reach consensus on a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals. The new section had stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week.

Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families face. It said “People with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity,” but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The revised paragraph failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot-button issue at the synod of bishops — whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion — also failed to pass.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the failure of the paragraphs to pass meant that they have to be discussed further to arrive at a consensus at a meeting of bishops next October.

It could be that the 118–62 vote on the gay paragraph was a protest vote of sorts by progressive bishops who refused to back the watered-down wording and wanted to keep the issue alive. The original draft had said gays had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support.

New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group, said it was “very disappointing” that the final report had backtracked from the welcoming words contained in the draft. Nevertheless, it said the synod’s process “and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the makeup of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.”

A coalition of small pro-life groups, Voice of the Family, said the outcome of the meeting had only contributed to “deepening the confusion that has already damaged families since the sexual revolution of the 1960s.”

The gay section of the draft report had been written by a Francis appointee, Monsignor Bruno Forte, a theologian known for pushing the pastoral envelope on ministering to people in “irregular” unions. The draft was supposed to have been a synopsis of the bishops’ interventions, but many conservatives complained that it reflected a minority and overly progressive view.

Francis insisted in the name of transparency that the full document — including the three paragraphs that failed to pass — be published along with the voting tally. The document will serve as the basis for future debate leading up to the October 2015 meeting of bishops, which will produce a final report for Francis to help him write a teaching document of his own.

“Personally I would have been very worried and saddened if there hadn’t been these … animated discussions … or if everyone had been in agreement or silent in a false and acquiescent peace,” Francis told the synod hall after the vote.

Conservatives had harshly criticized the draft and proposed extensive revisions to restate church doctrine, which holds that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” but that gays themselves are to be respected, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman. In all, 460 amendments were submitted.

“We could see that there were different viewpoints,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracis of India, when asked about the most contentious sections of the report on homosexuals and divorced and remarried Catholics.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the leader of the progressive camp, said he was “realistic” about the outcome.

In an unexpected gesture after the voting, Francis approached a group of journalists waiting outside the synod hall to thank them for their work covering the meeting. Francis has rarely if ever approached a scrum of journalists, except during his airborne press conferences.

“Thanks to you and your colleagues for the work you have done,” he said. “Grazie tante (Thanks a lot).” Conservative bishops had harshly criticized journalists for reporting on the dramatic shift in tone in the draft document, even though the media reports merely reflected the document’s content.

Francis also addressed the bishops, criticizing their temptation to be overly wed to doctrine and “hostile rigidity,” and on the flip side a temptation to “destructive do-goodness.” His speech received a four-minute standing ovation, participants said.

Over the past week, the bishops split themselves up into working groups to draft amendments to the text. They were nearly unanimous in insisting that church doctrine on family life be more fully asserted and that faithful Catholic families should be held up as models and encouraged rather than focus on family problems and “irregular” unions.

Catholic bishops acknowledging the ‘gifts and qualities’ gays offer

Catholic bishops are showing remarkable openness to accepting the real lives of many Catholics today, saying gays have gifts to offer the church and that there are “positive” aspects of a couple living together with being married.

A two-week meeting of bishops on family issues arrived at its half-way point with a document summarizing the closed-door debate so far. No decisions were announced, but the tone was one of almost revolutionary acceptance rather than condemnation, with the aim of guiding Catholics toward the ideal of a lasting marriage.

The bishops said gays had ‘’gifts and qualities” to offer and asked rhetorically if the church was ready to provide them a place “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

For a 2,000-year-old institution that believes gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” even posing the question is significant. The bishops, however, repeated that gay marriage was off the table.

The bishops said they must grasp the “positive reality of civil weddings” and even cohabitation, with the aim of helping the couple commit eventually to a church wedding.

The bishops also called for a re-reading of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that outlined the church’s opposition to artificial birth control. The bishops said couples should be unconditionally open to having children, but that the message of Humanae Vitae “underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control.”

There has been much talk inside the synod about applying the theological concept of the “law of gradualness” in difficult family situations. The concept encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.

Applying the concept to matters of birth control would be an acknowledgement that most Catholics already use artificial contraception in violation of church teaching.

Bishops also called for “courageous” new ways to minister to families, especially those “damaged” by divorce. The document didn’t take sides in the most divisive issue at the synod, whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment can receive Communion.

However, on Oct. 14,an official summary of the closed-door discussions that followed the document’s release said that while the report was “appreciated,” some bishops offered additional reflections “to bring together various points of view” that should be reflected in a final version being released at the end of the week.

Before crucial meeting, Catholic cardinals debate marriage

The battle lines are being drawn before a major church meeting on family issues that represents a key test for Pope Francis.

Five high-ranking cardinals have taken one of Francis’ favorite theologians to task over an issue dear to the pope’s heart: Whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment can receive Communion.

They have written a book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” to rebut German Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom Francis praised in his first Sunday blessing after he was elected pope as “a great theologian” and subsequently entrusted with a keynote speech to set the agenda for the two-year study on marriage, divorce and family life that opens Oct. 5.

Kasper, for a decade the Vatican’s top official dealing with the Orthodox and Jews, delivered his remarks to cardinals earlier this year on the issues to be discussed during the synod. At the pope’s request, he asked whether these divorced and remarried Catholics might be allowed in limited cases to receive the Eucharist after a period of penance.

The outcry that ensued has turned the 81-year-old Kasper into the biggest lightning rod for internal debate that the Catholic Church has seen in years.

Conservatives, including the five cardinal authors, have vehemently opposed Kasper’s suggestion as contrary to Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

The second most powerful man in the Vatican has backed their view: Cardinal George Pell, one of Francis’ key advisers, wrote in another new book that debating something that is so peripheral to begin with and so clear in church teaching amounts to “a counterproductive and futile search for short-term consolations.”

“Every opponent of Christianity wants the church to capitulate on this issue,” Pell wrote. “We should speak clearly, because the sooner the wounded, the lukewarm and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated.”

Francis, however, seems to think otherwise. He praised Kasper’s speech, calling it “profound theology” that did him much good and represented a true love for the church.

Church insiders say Francis is none too pleased by the war of words that has ensued, such that he instructed one of the book authors – Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican’s top doctrinal chief – not to promote it.

The unusually raw and public debate has crystalized the growing discomfort among conservatives to some of Francis’ words and deeds, and sets the stage for a likely heated discussion on family issues.

Church teaching holds that Catholics who don’t have their first marriage annulled – or declared null by a church tribunal – before remarrying can’t participate fully in the church’s sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, leaving untold numbers of Catholics unable to receive Communion.

Francis has asserted church doctrine on the matter but has called for a more merciful, pastoral approach. He reportedly told an Argentine woman earlier this year that she was free to receive Communion even though her husband’s first marriage was never annulled.

Knowing the issue is divisive, though, he has convened the whole church to discuss it.

The new book asserts there really is no better solution – and no grounds to argue for it since Catholic doctrine is clear. Aside from Mueller, the authors include another high-ranking Vatican official: Cardinal Raymond Burke, the American head of the Vatican’s supreme court.

“These are not a series of rules made up by the church; they constitute divine law, and the church cannot change them,” the book says. Kasper’s assertions, reading of history and suggestions for debate “reinforce misleading understandings of both fidelity and mercy.”

Kasper has agreed there can be no change to church doctrine and no sweeping, across-the-board allowances. But he has said the matter must be looked at on a case-by-case basis, that mercy is God’s greatest attribute and the key to Christian existence, and that God always gives faithful Catholics a new chance if they repent.

It is rare for cardinals to publicly and pointedly accuse one another of being wrong, and rarer still for a cardinal to question the pope, as Burke has done.

Regarding the purported phone call to the Argentine woman, Burke told the EWTN Catholic channel: “I wouldn’t for a moment impute that Pope Francis intended to give a signal about church doctrine by calling someone on the phone. This is just absurd.”

Burke has also questioned Francis’ first encyclical on the excesses of capitalism and obliquely criticized Francis’ decision to not focus on abortion.

Francis last year removed Burke, a key figure in the U.S. culture wars over abortion and gay marriage, as a member of the powerful Congregation for Bishops. A leading Vatican insider has reported that his days at the Vatican high court are numbered.

Germans intercept cocaine-filled condom headed for Vatican

The drug haul was unremarkable, but the destination raised eyebrows.

German customs officials intercepted a shipment of cocaine destined for the Vatican in January, weekly Bild am Sonntag reported Sunday.

Officers at Leipzig airport found 340 grams (12 ounces) of the drug packed into 14 condoms inside a shipment of cushions coming from South America, according to a German customs report. It said the package was simply addressed to the Vatican postal office, meaning any of the Catholic mini-state’s 800 residents could have picked it up.

The paper reported that a subsequent sting operation arranged with Vatican police failed to nab the intended recipient. No one claimed the package, indicating that he or she was tipped off about the plan. The drugs would have a street value of several tens of thousands of euros.

A spokesman for the German Finance Ministry, which oversees the customs office, confirmed the report. Prosecutors in Leipzig planned to issue a statement providing further details, Martin Chaudhuri told the Associated Press.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed that the Vatican police had cooperated with German police in an attempt to identify the traffickers. He said the investigation remained open.

Pope Francis appoints sex-abuse victim to advisory commission

Among those tapped by Pope Francis to a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy an Irish woman assaulted as a child by a priest to start plotting the commission’s tasks and priorities.

The pope announced the commission’s first eight members, including lay and religious experts, after coming under criticism from victims’’ groups. The Roman Catholic Church’s global sex abusive scandal and massive cover-up operations have devastated the church’s reputation and cost dioceses billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

In December, the Vatican announced that Francis would create a commission to develop best policies to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. But no details were released until today, and it’s unknown whether the commission will have the authority to discipline bishops who cover up for abusers.

In a statement today, the Vatican hinted that it might, saying the commission would look into both “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities” for church personnel, AP reported. Canon law does provide for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but such punishments have rarely if ever been imposed in the case of bishops who failed to report pedophile priests to police.

The eight inaugural members of the commission include Marie Collins, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland. She’s become a prominent Irish campaigner in the fight for accountability in the church.

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Pope’s simple style influences cardinal fashion

No glitzy gold, no rich velvet, no regal fur. Pope Francis’ pared down papal wardrobe of sensible black shoes and a white cassock so thin you can see his black trousers through it is a perfect fit for his call for simplicity and humility among his clergy.

The pope’s personal style — which earned him Esquire magazine’s “Best Dressed Man of 2013” award — and his broader message of sobriety will be put to the test this weekend, when he inducts 19 prelates into the College of Cardinals, placing the three-cornered red silk biretta on the heads of the new “princes of the church.”

For the festive occasion, cardinals are traditionally outfitted in scarlet from head to toe, from the silk skull cap to bright red socks, with a white lace embroidered surplice known as a rochet worn over the red cassock and underneath the mozzetta, or shoulder cape.

But with the “slum pope” now calling the sartorial shots, fashionistas and Vaticanistas are wondering how his new cardinals — who hail from some of the poorest places on Earth, including Haiti, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast — will dress for their new role.

“What will make the difference at the consistory is how the cardinals interpret this traditional outfit,” said Raniero Mancinelli who has dressed cardinals and even popes since the early 1960s from his tiny shop right outside the Vatican walls.

Will they splurge for the fancy, optional red silk cape favored by some first-world cardinals? Or will they go the route of the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who according to clerical legend wore an altered hand-me-down cassock inherited from his predecessor for his 2001 consistory?

“The cardinals and priests are much more careful of shining and spend less on their clothes,” Mancinelli told The Associated Press. “The gilded miters are only in shop windows. This is a consequence of Francis. They want to show they are on the same pastoral page.”

Mancinelli, who is getting little sleep these days putting the finishing touches on outfits commissioned by several of the new cardinals, has some tips of what to watch out for on Feb. 22, when Francis will preside over the consistory formally welcoming the new cardinals.

Immediately noticeable will be how much lace is on the rochet, once sewn by hand — with a price-tag to match — but now often machine made. “This is the Francis effect,” he said of the cheaper version as he ran his fingers over a prototype.

Back in 2001 when the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, he wore a simple rochet with only two thin bands of embroidered lace.

Another saving can come in the material used for the cassock itself. Once made out of precious silk and cashmere, the cassocks are now often synthetic: polyester for the red lining and territal, a synthetic wool blend.

“It costs less and also lasts longer, that’s for sure,” Macinelli said.

Once handmade, the 33 red buttons (representing the years of Christ’s life) are now more often than not machine made.

The cardinals’ red, it should be noted, isn’t just a fabulous fashion statement: As Francis will recite when he places the biretta on each prelate’s head, red symbolizes a cardinal’s readiness to sacrifice his life for the church and “to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood.”

Altogether, a cardinal’s outfit runs in the “few hundreds of euros, not few thousands,” Mancinelli said. One relatively reasonable add-on: a pair of red socks at 12 euros a pop.

Cardinal watchers might also want to keep their eyes on the pectoral crosses worn by the churchmen: When the Jesuit Bergoglio became a bishop in 1992, a friend bought him the simple metal pectoral cross he continues to wear as pope (having eschewed the gold-plated one offered to him the night of his election). Bergoglio’s metal cross was purchased in Mancinelli’s shop and identical versions are on sale for about 330 euros today. 

And of course, there are the parties that follow the consistory. In the past, new cardinals have been known to have sumptuous receptions thrown on their behalf by donors, friendly religious orders or church institutions. They are meant to entertain the parishioners, friends and family who may have travelled long distances for the occasion. It should be recalled that when Francis was installed as pope, he asked his sister to stay home in Argentina and for his other countrymen to donate to charity the money they would have spent to travel to Rome.

In a personal letter sent to his new cardinals in early January, Francis asked them to accept his nomination with joy, but to “do so in a way that this avoids any expression of worldliness, or any celebration alien to the evangelical spirit of austerity, simplicity and poverty.”

Mancinelli said that ever since Francis became pope a year ago, there has been a bit of “belt-tightening” all around in clerical garb, due also to the global economic crisis.

But there will always be exceptions. Across the Tiber river from the Vatican and Mancinelli’s small shop is Gammarelli, tailors by papal appointment and founded in 1798. Gammarelli famously prepares the three white outfits — small, medium and large — that a newly elected pope picks according to his size to wear out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s after his election.

Sixth generation Lorenzo Gammarelli said Francis’ call for sobriety — which Esquire credited with subtly signaling “a new era (and for many, renewed hope) for the Catholic Church” — hadn’t really affected business at all.

“Those who were simple before remain simple today,” he said. And vice versa. Speaking in front of the old world shop window decorated with the finest of scarlet cardinal garb, including that fancy red cape, he acknowledged: “Simplicity is not here.”

Pope opens big week with sex, marriage, divorce on agenda

Meetings this week between Pope Francis and his cardinals will deal with some of the thorniest issues facing the church, including the rejection by most Catholics of some of its core teaching on premarital sex, contraception, gays and divorce.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has called for “changes and openings” in the church’s treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics, will give the keynote speech Thursday to the pope and cardinals attending a preparatory meeting for an October summit on family issues.

The cardinals are in town for a ceremony to formally install 19 new “princes of the church,” the first batch named by Francis to join the group of churchmen who will elect his successor. The ceremony is the high point of an intensive week of meetings presided over by Francis that include the first proposals to put the Vatican’s financial house in order.

Ahead of the consistory, cardinals will meet for two days behind closed doors to begin preparations for the October summit on family issues.

Francis scheduled the summit last year and took the unusual step of sending bishops around the world a questionnaire for ordinary Catholics to fill out about how they understand and practice church teaching on marriage, sex and other issues related to the family.

The results, at least those reported by bishops in Europe and the United States, have been eye-opening. Bishops themselves reported that the church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce are 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.

“On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, `That train left the station long ago,'” Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, recently wrote on his blog, summarizing his survey’s findings. “Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”

German and Swiss bishops released similar survey results earlier this month. German bishops reported this: “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.

Kasper, who retired in 2010 after a decade as the Vatican’s chief ecumenical officer, has for years held out hope that the Vatican might accommodate these remarried Catholics who are forbidden from participating fully in the church’s sacraments unless they get an annulment.

“What is possible with God – namely forgiveness – we should be able to succeed within the church, too,” he told Germany’s Die Zeit in December.

Church teaching holds that unless that first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned from their church.

Last year, the German diocese of Freiburg issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met – if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation – they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.

The Vatican’s chief doctrinal czar immediately shot down the initiative, insisting there is no way around the rule. Cardinal-elect Gerhard Mueller, like Kasper a German theologian, cited documents from popes past and his own office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in rejecting arguments that mercy should prevail over church rules or that people should follow their own consciences to decide if their first marriage was valid or not.

“It is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the church,” he wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

But Kasper has said the issue can and should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Francis himself has made clear he wants to help these Catholics and that the annulment process itself must be reviewed because the church’s tribunals currently are not able to deal with their caseload. He has said now was a “season of mercy.”

Francis is a big fan of Kasper. During his first Sunday noon blessing as pope, Francis praised Kasper by name, saying he was a terrific theologian who had just written a great book on mercy.

American canon lawyer Edward Peters, who has written extensively on the American annulment process, said Monday that compromise is not possible on annulments themselves since that is the only way baptized Catholics can remarry. But in a blog post, he said the Vatican might consider some “process-smoothing provisions” that were approved for the U.S. church back in the 1970s, including the elimination of the mandatory appeal to Rome.

Vatican panel finds Catholics ignore church’s sex rules

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. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori wrote in a recent diocesan article that more than 4,000 people had responded to his survey, but provided scant information on what they said. He wrote that “the majority of Catholics who responded said they strive to practice their faith, but acknowledged the struggles and confusion they face in doing so.”

The archdiocese of Philadelphia, meanwhile, said it was following Vatican guidelines by not publishing the findings at all.

But if independent studies are any indication, American Catholics are likely to agree with their European counterparts at least on the issue of contraception. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that three-quarters of U.S. Catholics think the church should permit members to use birth control.

Church teaching holds that marriage is an indissoluble union between a man and woman. The Vatican opposes artificial contraception and considers homosexual acts to be “intrinsically disordered.”

The surveys found that German and Swiss Catholics rejected such teachings as out of step with their personal lives. Gay marriage is increasingly accepted, unmarried couples are increasingly the norm and the ban on artificial contraception is deemed not only unrealistic but “blatantly immoral” concerning the use of condoms to fight HIV.

Church teaching also holds that Catholics who don’t have their first marriage annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, before remarrying cannot receive Communion because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned.

Last year, the German diocese of Freiburg issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met – if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation – they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.

The Vatican immediately shot down the initiative, with the Vatican’s German doctrinal czar insisting there is no way around the rule.

Despite the survey findings, moral theologians warned that church doctrine isn’t about to change.

“The surveys indicate what Francis already knew and the reason why he has chosen the family for the focus of his reform,” said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University.

He said the church relies on marriage and strong families to raise children in the faith. “The surveys show that the church must do much more to foster appreciation for the fidelity of such unconditional and life-giving love when society sees personal relationships in the fleeting terms of utility and gratification,” he said.