02/03/2014 04:30 PM
The Pope's Sex Problem: Catholic Survey Reveals Frustrated Flock
By SPIEGEL Staff
The Vatican last year sent out a survey to Catholics around the world focusing on attitudes to sex and sexuality. The responses are now in -- and they show that the Church is badly in need of reform. Can Pope Francis meet such expectations?
Adolescents find it embarrassing to talk about sex with adults. Even more so when the adult in question is their Catholic priest.
About 20 girls and boys are sitting on leather sofas in the basement of St. Josef Catholic Community Center on the outskirts of Berlin. The walls are brightly painted and bags of gummy bears and chocolate are on a table in the center of the room.
Hannah, Jonas and their friends giggle when Harald Tux, a friendly, balding man with glasses, reads a questionnaire from the Vatican out loud. It's about premarital sex, and the officials in Rome want to know how these young Catholics in Berlin's Weissensee neighborhood feel about it. "Is contraception an option for you?" the theologian asks. The youths are already whispering, and they can't help but smile when Tux finally gets to the point: "If you used contraception, would you confess to it?"
"Huh?" a girl asks with a grimace. "It's not a crime," exclaims a boy in a hooded sweatshirt. They all snort with laughter.
The debate continues. "For our generation, it's also a question of responsibility. If you don't want to become a parent at 16 or 17, you have to use contraception," says Hannah. The 16-year-old and her fellow adolescents cite many other issues where they believe change is needed. "Homosexuals should also be allowed to marry, so that the church can be open to everyone," says Jonas. "The church doesn't have the right to interfere."
Last week, Germany's Catholic bishops held a two-day conference in the Bavarian city of Würzburg for the purpose of compiling and analyzing the responses given by Hannah, Jonas and other Catholics from all 27 dioceses in Germany. Their conclusions are bound for Rome. The project has likely led to more churchgoers expressing their opinions than ever before in 2,000-year history of the church.
In the past, the church has turned to its bishops to assess the mood in the grassroots, but their reports often contained more pious desires and wishful thinking than facts.
A Wave of Protest
But now the people of God have spoken. Church members around the world were asked for their opinions on the most controversial issues in Catholicism. They expressed how they feel about the strict prohibitions of their faith, on issues ranging from the family to sexual morality. In the coming weeks and months, their responses to the surveys will be processed and analyzed, and in October Pope Francis and bishops from around the world will discuss the results during an extraordinary synod.
SPIEGEL has taken a closer look at the mood in all 27 German dioceses. Some divulged very little information, while many others provided extensive data. Catholic family and youth organizations that were particularly involved in the survey also contributed.
The outcome is devastating for the guardians of pure doctrine. Even the reactions of committed Catholics reflect disinterest, enmity and deep displeasure. Many can no longer relate to the old dogmas and feel left alone by the church. Even in conservative Bavaria, 86 percent of Catholics do not believe it is a sin to use the pill or condoms, both condemned by the church.
A look into the congregations reveals that Rome could soon be facing a wave of protest unlike anything the Vatican has experienced in a long time.
For most Catholics, the deep divide between everyday reality and doctrine is not a recent phenomenon. But popes have shown little interest in this reality. Pope Benedict XVI, in particular, turned his back on modern life and insisted on upholding ancient dogmas.
Now the church is officially confirming its inner conflict, which creates the greatest challenge to Pope Francis in his young papacy. He must demonstrate whether he intends to heed the call of churchgoers and reform Catholicism, or stick to his amiable and extremely well-received, but ultimately ineffective gestures.
Changing Tone, Changing Substance?
In just a few weeks, on March 19, Jorge Mario Bergoglio will celebrate his first anniversary as pope. His modest behavior and surprising interviews have quickly turned the priest "from the end of the world" into a global star. Pope Francis, despite being 77, delivers his message with the enthusiasm of someone who has just fallen in love, using every channel at his disposal. He has taken such unconventional steps as donning a red clown's nose and eating meals with the poor of Assisi instead of his cardinals.
The man at the helm in St. Peter's Basilica is no longer a preoccupied professor but a PR genius. Bergoglio is following Ratzinger in much the same way US President Barack Obama followed his predecessor George W. Bush: as a man with an eye for the future, someone who promises to liberate people from the conservative doctrine of a controversial predecessor.
Or could it be that while the tone has changed at the Vatican, the substance remains unchanged? The Argentine pope has not eliminated or even softened a single dogma of his rigid church, even though he has the power to do so. As in the White House, it is near the end and not at the beginning of a term at the Vatican that a new pope demonstrates whether there is more to him that charisma and rhetoric -- and whether he can gain control over the machinery of his administration or become a pawn of the power-hungry elites surrounding him.
After almost a year, the period of getting to know the new pope is coming to an end. Now a factional dispute over the future of the church is taking place in the Vatican and within the branches of the world's largest religious community.
When it comes to the pope's position on sex, countless Catholics are eager to see more openness coming from their church, along with pastoral care that meets the demands of everyday life -- even as the Curia, with its hostile approach to change, defends old rules that often reflect the spirit of the Middle Ages rather than the New Testament.
In the middle of all this is an old man from Argentina who seems not to be entirely sure of what he can offer the base and what he can expect from his church hierarchy.
The way in which the survey came about is indicative of Bergoglio's struggles with his new flock. When his theologians wrote the questionnaire, it was under the assumption that the target audience would consist of bishops and other scholarly church leaders. The first of the 39 questions is already a challenge: "Describe how the Catholic Church's teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today?"
Information from the Grass Roots
In late October, the Vatican sent the document to the German Bishops' Conference and its sister organizations around the world, but without specifying who was supposed to answer the questions. Was a response from lay committees, such as diocesan councils, which steadfastly champion the views of many bishops, sufficient? Should pastors have their say? Or was the church truly interested in the opinions of all Catholics? "The consultation must gather information from the grass roots and not limit itself to the level of the Curia or other institutions," Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Vatican's synod of bishops told the National Catholic Reporter last December. "Though involved in the process, they must cooperate by addressing themselves to the faithful, to communities, to associations and other bodies."
But after dispatching the survey, the church half-heartedly left it up to the dioceses to determine how to obtain the desired information.
The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, simply passed the survey on, providing no further instructions on who was to respond to the Vatican survey.
Zollitsch proved to be more decisive on another, albeit very important issue. In a letter to German bishops written by his secretary, he noted: "Questions 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8 will be answered by the central office." To save time, existing church positions were to be used.
In fact, this meant that particularly issues were being withheld from churchgoers. For instance, the set of questions under item 5 relates to gay and lesbian couples, while question 7 concerns contraception and abortion.
This somewhat clumsy attempt at censorship might have worked in a world with no Internet. But when the English bishops, who are not as timid, abruptly placed the entire questionnaire online, Catholics in Germany simply took matters into their own hands.
Pastor Klaus Zedtwitz from the Archdiocese of Freiburg in southwestern Germany is a case in point. On the evening of Nov. 1, the 63-year-old was browsing through news sites on the Internet when he happened upon a surprising story. The pope, he read, had commissioned a survey on family doctrine that was directed at the faithful around the world. Zedtwitz was thrilled. He promptly downloaded and printed out the questionnaire, and on the following Sunday, he addressed the subject during his sermon to his congregation, Am Luisenpark, in the city of Mannheim.
But Zedtwitz found that the Latin-heavy verbiage of the document from Rome was far too complicated. How could he expect his congregants to understand that the Curia was interested in common-law marriages when it asked about people living together "ad experimentum?" The Mannheim pastor wrote a simpler version, dispensing with both the theological tone of the original and the Bishops' Conference attempts at censorship. "There is something shady" about simply excluding sensitive issues, says Zedtwitz. "Why shouldn't Catholics be allowed to comment on gay and lesbian relationships? The specifications of the Bishops' Conference were too narrow for my taste." In his view, laypeople are certainly capable of forming their own opinions.
The Pope's Sex Problem
Which is exactly what they did. The pastor received 116 completed surveys from his congregation. "Terms like compassion, respect, love, openness and forbearance were used very often," he writes in his evaluation. Many condemned Catholic doctrine as being "out of touch with reality."
The papal survey quickly spread throughout Germany. Lay organizations jumped at the opportunity to finally make their opinions known. The German Catholic Youth Federation (BDKJ), for example, produced a simplified form of the survey, which was completed online by about 10,000 respondents.
If thepope and his bishops were still harboring any illusions about their influence on young Catholics, they have now been dashed. "The church's sexual morals are irrelevant to nine out of 10 young Catholics," reads the BDKJ summary. "Sex before marriage and birth control are a given in their intimate relationships."
And hardly anyone feels guilty about it. For their grandparents' generation, premarital sex was tantamount to living a life in sin. In sermons, Grandma and Grandpa were taught to feel "tainted" after taking sexual liberties. Today, according to the BDKJ, 96 percent of people who are in "sexual relationships" without having been married in the church have no qualms about it. Young Catholics simply do as they please, and yet they still participate in the sacraments.
"I believe that if God had not wanted us to have sex, he certainly wouldn't have made it as exciting," writes a 20-year-old survey respondent.
But young people aren't the only ones protesting. People from all age groups vented their displeasure to the dioceses. The level of response varied in different places, depending on how user-friendly church officials made the survey. In Bonn, for example, 2,217 Catholics completed an online survey. In Upper Bavaria, on the other hand, there were "apparently substantial gaps in the official flow of information," say Katharina Hänel of a local chapter of the Catholic Women's League of Germany. In fact, says Sabine Slawik, a fellow member of the League in the Diocese of Augsburg, a number of pastors didn't even pass on the survey to their congregations.
'Many Issues Were Ignored'
Despite the differences, there was widespread unanimity in the evaluation of the survey. Rarely has an institution received such low marks from its members. "Even though they are not representative, the survey results create and amplify the impression of an unfortunate, calamitous situation," says Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of Mainz. The 77-year-old has long been Germany's leading proponent of open-minded Catholicism. "Actually, we've known about this for a long time," says Lehmann, referring to the deep divide between churchgoers and the hierarchy, "but many issues were ignored."
His staff has written a 156-page report describing the mood in the Mainz diocese. It is a rare document of alienation, revealing how even well-meaning Catholics are at odds with their church, beginning with its language, which is perceived as an "imposition." After sermons, some parishioners complained: "As a Central European, one feels set back by at least 100 years." Others refused to allow the church to interfere in their family lives, especially by "people forced into celibacy, who secretly father children but are not allowed to marry."
A question that asked respondents about their knowledge of the doctrine of "Humanae vitae" was also the source of great confusion. "Ten out of 10 random respondents thought it referred to an invigorating body lotion," reads a questionnaire received at the diocese in Mainz. In fact, the term refers to an encyclical letter written by Paul VI in 1968, titled "On Human Life," which banned the use of contraceptives, causing a deep divide between the official church and the faithful.
Since then, the Vatican has repeatedly engaged in heated arguments with German Catholics on sexual morality. In 1998, for example, Rome asked Catholic churches in Germany to stop providing pregnancy conflict counseling, a demand that disappointed many church members and liberal bishops alike. Pope John Paul II relentlessly insisted on a ban on condoms. People who are divorced and remarry are marginalized, and homosexuals are discriminated against.
The hardliners within the official church have consistently prevailed in the past, but now they appear to be fighting a lost cause, as parishioners refuse to toe the line on central issues of sexuality.
The most contentious issue is the church's strict prohibition of contraception, which almost all Catholics ignore. "The overwhelming majority explain their decision-making on these issues by referring to their responsibility to their partners," reads an assessment by the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart.
The Vatican's notion that couples should only live together and have sex after marriage is equally outdated. Living together before marriage "is an unmistakable reality today," notes the Diocese of Augsburg. The same conclusions are drawn throughout the alphabet of dioceses, ending with Würzburg, where "about 90 percent of all couples practice cohabitation 'ad experimentum'."
Hardly anyone among the faithful understands how the various prohibitions are supposed to fit together. To begin with, couples are not supposed to have sex before marriage. Once they are married, they are not permitted to use birth control. And if the marriage fails, the church has other objections.
Many Catholics are especially incensed over the treatment of people who have been divorced and then remarried, which, according to the wording of the survey, places them in "irregular marriage situations" and excludes them from communion. One respondent writes: "I have been living in one of these 'irregular' situations for the last 14 years, but no one has ever described my situation in such crass terms as this questionnaire. I'm shocked." Another person writes: "In the more than 30 years of my being divorced then remarried, the church has never shown an interest in me, my problems or my doubts about my faith."
Another group the church accused of committing sins also enjoys considerable support from the base: homosexuals. "Many Christians cannot understand this attitude," the staff of Cologne's Cardinal Joachim Meisner concluded after reading the survey responses they received. In fact, Catholics in Cologne are all too familiar with their conservative archbishop's condemnation of gays and lesbians. Now Meisner can read about the consequences in the analysis prepared by his own priests, who conclude: "Many have already turned away from the church. And many are convinced that this is no longer acceptable."
Finally, many Christians took advantage of a unique opportunity to tell the pope how they felt about issues that were not even included in the survey. One is the vow of chastity for the clergy.
Peter Brandl, a pastor in Neunkirchen, in the Archdiocese of Bamberg, spent 10 days discussing the survey with members of his congregation. In the end, it was clear that his parish, St. Michael and St. Augustine, was not only demanding a new approach to remarried divorcees and same-sex couples. The parishioners also wanted to see the church do away with mandatory celibacy. "Everyone here agrees that it ought to be abolished," says Pastor Brandl. "It was very important to our parishioners to include this issue."
Unadulterated and Unadorned
The results of the survey are clear, from Neunkirchen to the St. Joseph Catholic Youth Group in Berlin. Now the question is whether a diagnosis so painful for the church will reach the pope in an undistorted form.
It's doubtful that it will. Some of the survey analyses by the bishops' staff members are filled with solemn prose. "Good and descriptive sermons should point out, once again, that the husband is the shepherd in the family, and that his duty is to be its spiritual leader," the Diocese of Augsburg wrote after surveying its base.
Lay representatives are alarmed. "We are calling upon the bishops to deliver the results of the surveys to Rome in unadulterated and unadorned form, as difficult as it may be for the bishops," says Christian Weisner, the national chairman of the "We are Church" movement.
The chairman of the BDKJ, Dirk Tänzler, also cautions church leaders "to ensure that the results they deliver to Rome are transparent." Elisabeth Bussmann, president of the Catholic Family Federation in Germany, says: "The survey unleashed a development that can no longer be stopped." And Alois Glück, head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, explains: "The survey was certainly hampered by methodological deficits. But the signal effect emanating from it is extremely important." He also perceives a strong discrepancy between church teachings and reality. "The key issue now is: What will Rome do with the results?"
That is precisely what the recipient of all of this information, Pope Francis, has yet to reveal.
At first glance, it seems that the pope has nothing to worry about. Millions of people have already flocked to his appearances, far more than those who came to see his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
His modest demeanor and often unconventional appearances have been the key to his popularity. Francis kisses the tattooed foot of a convict on live camera. He washes the feet of women, blacks and Muslims, to the dismay of many a cardinal. He embraces the disfigured Vinicio Riva, from Isola Vicentina, a suburb of Vicenza, dubbed the "wart man" by the tabloids, and pats his gnarled skin. He pays no attention to the footmen at the Vatican, preferring to carry his worn leather bag himself. During morning prayers, the Holy Father sits in the back rows of the Vatican chapel, like any other worshipper. And he drives himself to appointments in a used Ford Focus or a Fiat Idea.
Each of these appearances feels like a calculated signal, a message carefully addressed to various regiments from the army of the disadvantaged. If he were a politician, one would say that he is appealing to previously neglected groups of voters.
"If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?," Francis said, seemingly with sympathy, when he was flying back to Rome after attending World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. He also expressed empathy for divorced Catholics as he hovered above the clouds. "I believe we live in a time of mercy," he added. In his first apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii gaudium," the word "joy" appeared 48 times in the introduction alone.
The public has reacted with understandable delight. Shortly before Christmas, Time named Pope Francis its "Person of the Year."
But the public pays little attention when the Vatican -- even under Bergoglio's leadership -- energetically defends Catholic doctrine. The church's new leader has already sent the relevant signals to the Roman Catholic community. "I am a son of the church," he reassured the curia, when public expectations were running so high that the catechism seemed on the verge of suffering a fate similar to socialism.
Critics derisively refer to Pope Francis's approach as "Papastroika, as if he were opening the Church like Mikhail Gorbachev opened the Soviet Union. That, as we now know, ended in chaos. But it should be noted that, unlike Gorbachev, Francis has yet to modify or eliminate a single relevant rule or regulation in his realm.
"Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons," reads the Catholic catechism. "Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young." Masturbation ("a gravely disordered action") is condemned, as are homosexual acts ("Under no circumstances can they be approved"). Divorce is considered especially egregious, even "immoral," because "it introduces disorder into the family and into society," and "because of its contagious effect," it is "truly a plague on society."
The man whose job it is to strictly monitor compliance with these rules is Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, known in the past as the Holy Roman Inquisition. Benedict XVI brought Müller, the then Bishop of Regensburg in southern Germany, to Rome in the summer of 2012. He had commended himself through his deeply conservative positions, as well as his unabashed handling of the critical media, which he likened to a "flock of hissing geese."
Francis could have transferred Müller to a less exposed and less influential position. Instead, he announced that Müller would be made a cardinal in February.
A division of labor modeled after American police dramas is emerging between the pope and Müller. As the "good cop," Francis greets ordinary sinners with a smile on his face, while "bad cop" Müller is sharply critical of every transgression. This is how it works in practice: The pontiff calls a divorced woman and comforts her, and it seems almost accidental that half the world finds out about it. Meanwhile, his prefect criticizes an initiative from the Archdiocese of Freiburg, which wanted to stop excluding people who have divorced and remarried from participating in communion. "If such people were admitted to the Eucharist, it would create confusion among the faithful with regard to the teachings of the church," Müller said, by way of reprimand to Freiburg Archbishop Zollitsch, the head of the German Bishops' Conference. Müller also published a treatise "On the Indissolubility of Marriage" in L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy See newspaper.
The most important factions in the Catholic Church still have eight months to prepare for the extraordinary bishops' synod in October, when the pope and his shepherds will discuss the recently completed family survey. Not just German bishops, but also bishops from Belgium to South Africa and New Zealand, had placed the survey online, so that the results are guaranteed to be colorful. In Rome, it will now be a question of who gains the upper hand: Reformers who want to update the catechism or hardliners like Müller, who are defending centuries-old tradition against the zeitgeist.
Francis knows that his church consists of many currents and factions. If he acts alone, he could quickly fail, which is why he has created a crown council of sorts, consisting of eight cardinals from around the world. The group, sometimes referred to as the "G8," is seen as a counterweight to the Curia. The pope's personal advisers are from countries like India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Honduras, but the group also includes the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The choice of cardinals from around the world is intended to ensure that more attention is paid to the concerns of Catholics worldwide at the Rome-centric Vatican.
The coordinator of the papal "G8" is Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, a colorful archbishop from Honduras, who has attracted attention for some of his pursuits, including flying helicopters, working as a psychotherapist and playing the piano. No one knows how much influence the international shadow cabinet already has, and to what extent it can shape church policy, especially in matters of sexual morality. Everything that has been discussed and developed within the panel has remained secret.
But Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga has revealed one thing: his deep distrust of Prefect Müller. "In his mentality, there is only right or wrong, that's it," Rodríguez Maradiaga said in an interview. "But I say: The world, my brother, isn't like that. You should be slightly flexible."
For now, Francis is keeping all options open. He has repeatedly demonstrated his respect for the conservative camp in his personnel decisions to date. He appointed a member of Opus Dei to his commission to reform the Vatican bank, for instance, while a member of the equally reactionary Legionaries of Christ was named general secretary of the Vatican state.
In a strategically shrewd move, Francis has emphasized inclusion of the supporters of Benedict XVI. He demonstratively embraced the former pope from the very beginning, referring to him as a relative living in his house. He speaks highly of his predecessor when possible, and he completed Benedict's unfinished encyclical, changing only a few words in the process. Francis has no desire to unnecessarily stylize himself as an antithesis to Benedict XVI, even though that is undoubtedly what he is.
The retired pope is the fixed star of the traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church. His residence, the Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church) monastery, is only a few steps from St. Peter's Basilica, set idyllically in the Vatican gardens. It forms the intellectual center of old Catholicism.
Joseph Ratzinger keeps the strict worldview of his era alive through his presence alone. Benedict was in poor health during the weeks following his resignation. He suffered from heart and circulatory ailments, was emaciated and weak and plagued by depression. Many in his circle were convinced that he was dying. But then he recovered.
His ideal of a spiritual church as an antithesis to a secularized, uninhibited society is very much alive. For the conservative establishment, Ratzinger continues to set the standard today.
Of course, the retired pontiff keeps a low profile when it comes to the public. "El Viejo," or "the old man," as his successor respectfully calls him, has held only one larger mass in the Vatican so far: for his former employees, doctoral candidates and students, a meeting of elderly gentlemen. The group of Benedict's former students had come together in late August for an annual conference. Benedict's sermon revolved around one of the new pope's favorite subjects: humility and modesty. It seems as if Benedict were making an effort not to unnecessarily provoke opposition to Francis.
The old elites are not as discreet. They are already turning up their noses because Francis, unlike his predecessors, doesn't want to sing or chant at mass. And they feel it is beneath the Holy Father's dignity to stick both thumbs into the air during a general audience, as if he were attending a football match.
Even more shocking to his detractors is the pope's choice of a residence, the Santa Maria guesthouse, where Bergoglio occupies Suite 201, a 90-square-meter (970-square-foot) apartment on the third floor, next door to his closest advisers. For the traditionalists, the new center of power, unlike the Apostolic Palace, is hardly better than a second-class hotel frequented by traveling salesmen. During lunch in the Santa Maria cafeteria, the pope sometimes spots an acquaintance, jumps up from his table, runs after the man and calls out: "Can I talk to you?" And when he does meet with one of these people, there are no appointments and no preliminary meetings, and no one is ever told about what was discussed. For some at the Vatican, this behavior is nothing short of outrageous, after centuries of strict protocol surrounding the lives of popes.
Overwhelming Public Expectations
So much unconventional behavior causes discomfort among longstanding members of the Vatican staff. But the dictate of the moment is to act as if none of this mattered. Even Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, 72, the head of social communications in the Curia, has taken to proudly reporting, in neo-Italian, how often the pope's words were "re-tweettati." The number of Bergoglio's Twitter followers has increased fivefold to more than 11 million. In the Latin version, the prince of the church addresses his "highly esteemed followers" as "Fautores dilecti."
Is this compatible with the traditional image of the earthly representative of Christ, who can proclaim eternal truths while speaking ex cathedra? Of course not, say the pope's critics in Italy, most notably the philosopher Mario Palmaro and his co-author, journalist Alessandro Gnocchi.
"We don't like this pope," they asserted in a commentary. They subsequently lost their jobs with a Catholic radio station as a result. But otherwise, as Gnocchi reports, their remarks were well received, even within the divided Curia.
Both authors deplore the tendency toward simplification and the softening of doctrine under Francis. They miss the justified rigor that had returned under Benedict XVI and, together with asceticism and prayer, protected against the siren songs of the world." In their verdict, Francis is someone who tells the masses what they want to hear and, regrettably, "the number of followers on Twitter is inversely proportional to the power and clarity of the message." According to Palmaro and Gnocchi, the pope is destroying the roots of the Catholic faith with qualifying statements on the inviolability of the marriage sacrament.
Their attack offers a foretaste of the power struggle of the coming months. "This pope is authentic. He knows what he wants and he carries through with it. It's obvious why people are grumbling in the Curia and elsewhere, because suddenly everyone can be asked what kind of expensive car he drives," says retired Curial Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has been asked to write a position paper on the sensitive family issue for the pope by the end of February. "What Francis says has nothing to do with relativism, but with realism. He is familiar with real life. He will not be able to completely change the Curia during his papacy, but he will manage to reform it. In the future, it should see itself more as a service provider."
That was what countless Catholics were hoping when they completed the surveys the pope sent out in October. A year of decisions is beginning for Francis and his church. Will the calls for attention from the basis be heard behind the thick walls of the Vatican? Can laypeople expect the church to change in accordance with their wishes? And can they expect Rome to stop despising and condemning the realities of their lives?
Even Francis's open-minded advisers are concerned that he will be unable to put the genie back into the bottle. Marcello Semeraro is the secretary of Pope Francis' "crown council," the group of eight cardinals from around the world tasked with advising the pope on reforms. Semeraro does everything he can to dampen the overwhelming expectations of ordinary Catholics.
Some apparently felt "that the questionnaire created the impression of a survey in which majority opinion would be declared valid," Semeraro said recently. "That is absolutely not the case. The role of the pope and the bishops is not to be the notaries of a majority."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan