What’s coming soon? Beginning in August, the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana will be conducting a general survey. This instrument will be available in electronic and paper versions. Each Catholic adult and Catholic of high-school age is encouraged to participate. Further information about the survey will appear in The Catholic Moment and parish bulletins.
A company called The Reid Group already has consulted with people here to shape the survey items. It has experience with this sort of activity in other dioceses. While the content itself is not very complex, it reflects one important effort to capture opinions and expectations. There will be space for participants to register their points of view in their own words. The data will help build a picture of the diocese so that I, as the pastoral shepherd, can refine a vision for my offices going forward.
Please view this activity as an exercise of your faith, whatever your condition. You might invent a little prayer before you register your responses. For example, “Dear God, help me to express my heart and considered thoughts, so that Bishop Doherty receives both the guidance he needs and the grace to be attentive to your will.”
Why now? During the past four years, we have experienced significant changes in diocesan personnel and the climate for ministry. In addition to having a new bishop, a new vicar for clergy was appointed for the first time in years. We have a new vicar general who is also chancellor and supervisor of Chancery staff. We are in the process of choosing a new diocesan business manager for the first time in 28 years, and new people should soon fill the positions of director of the Pastoral Office for Family Life and director of human resources.
Other things that respond to the “Why now?” question:
The size and distribution of the Catholic population continues to shift. As I have written in previous columns, the shifts accelerated after the 1880s. The growth of the international and Hispanic populations — by no means all immigrant — present opportunities and challenges.
With a more complete sense of the diocese, people discerning vocations to ministry will have a better idea of what they are called to. And we can craft more effective plans in the deployment of clergy for worship and administration.
Over time, and certainly within the past four years, the climate for religious life and liberty has changed. Most all are aware of conscience issues (health, immigration, capital punishment, education standards), changing circumstances for employment, marriage and family life, the New Evangelization, the digital divide between generations and the positive effects available through social media. The list is longer, but examples drive home my point.
Is this a vote about what will actually happen? This is not a referendum. Unfortunately, this is how the 2013 Vatican survey of marriage and family was perceived. The Reid survey and related processes will help me to refine a vision for my work and that of diocesan department heads. We have not been without one, as Canon Law outlines a bishop’s work in this order: to teach, to sanctify, and to lead or govern. But a bishop’s work, and that of his fellow staff, is always shaped by the needs of the local Church.
Isn’t the planning going to be totally determined by where the most Catholics live? It is true that the larger population centers are in the southern part of the diocese. There are large parishes at locations where, 30 or 40 years ago, there were grain fields. But our diocese, like most others, has less populated areas with long traditions of vibrant parish life. The key thing to remember is this: Both larger and smaller parishes have talents and challenges that did not exist until recently. An adequate vision about our possibilities will energize us to see many changes as opportunities, not as deteriorations.
When will we know the results? Will they be published? I expect that collecting and examining the results will produce some usable results by fall. How it all fits with existing work and trends will be another part of the story. I expect that reports will flow out through multiple diocesan and parish channels.
Speaking of that 2013 Vatican survey in which many of us participated, what happened to those results? Reflections on the questionnaire’s eight topic areas titled “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” can be found at the Vatican Web site, quickly found by Googling “instrumentum laboris 2014.” Both the survey and the reflections are very preliminary to the work of the upcoming synods.