Pope Francis surveys Midstate, worldwide Catholics

The Catholic Church is an institution that's thousands of years old.

But it has a new pope, and it's taking a new approach.

It recently sent surveys to every diocese in the world, including Harrisburg.

Apparently Pope Francis wants to know what the flock is thinking about marriage and family. 

“The Holy Father is very pastoral,” said Vikki Laskowski, Director of Marriage and Family Ministries for the Harrisburg Diocese. “He really likes to reach out to people.”

The survey doesn't duck controversial topics like same-sex marriage, divorce and co-habitation.

Exactly what Pope Francis will do with the survey results is unknown, but the fact that he's even asking the faithful for input is noteworthy.

“I think sometimes Catholics sit to the side and think this is how the church is, no one wants to hear my opinion,” said Denise McCracken, a Catholic heading into noontime mass at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg. “This is a great opportunity for Catholics to get involved and share their opinions.”

“It's a novel approach,” said Bill Behe, a Harrisburg Catholic. “It's a bottom-up approach.”

But Behe is cautious. He doesn't want Catholic leaders acting like political leaders, who are often swayed by public opinion polls.

“It's a religion,” Behe said. “And if you're Catholic, you believe that your religion is founded by God. It isn't subject to what is popular at a particular point in time.”

But Bill needn't worry, according to officials at the Harrisburg Diocese.

While survey answers may eventually soften church tone on certain topics, they won't change church teaching.

“We're still working from basic doctrine,” Laskowski insists. “So the questions here are how to work with people, and how to minister with people who are in specific situations. It doesn't mean we're doing a popular vote on what church doctrine should be.”

It may not be a popular vote, but listening to the flock will increase the pontiff's popularity. Francis has impressed many by taking a less judgmental tone on controversial topics.

As for the survey, it's up to each diocese to decide on who exactly gets to fill it out. Some are doing online surveys of the entire flock. Others are keeping it to bishops and priests.

All are acting quickly. They must be returned to the Vatican by the end of the year. Answers will be analyzed and scrutinized and will be delivered to a worldwide bishops' conference in 2015.

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