Vatican admits Catholics don’t follow its rules on sex and marriage

Pope Francis catches a cap thrown by a pilgrim during his general audience at St. Peter's Square on Wednesday.
Pope Francis catches a cap thrown by a pilgrim during his general audience at St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday.
(Alberto Pizzoli / AFP/Getty Images)

After studying the results of a global survey of Catholics, the Vatican is acknowledging that churchgoers ignore its rules on fundamental issues including marriage, divorce and contraception.

But in a report issued Thursday, the Vatican laid part of the blame on its priests for not adequately getting the message across. The report also said the “individualism” and “materialism” of modern society were to blame as well.

Though the report suggests that the way the church’s rules are applied may be modified, a senior church official said Catholics should not expect wholesale change.

“The doctrine of the church is not up for discussion,” Bishop Bruno Forte told a news conference at the Vatican on Thursday.

The survey’s 39 questions sent out to Catholics last year drew responses from about 90% of the world’s bishops’ conferences as well as from 800 associations and individuals. The responses and analysis in the report are to be used to frame debate at a synod on the family scheduled for this fall. A second synod on the same theme is set for next year.


The report describes “an increasing number of couples” living out of wedlock and a rise in divorce. “In North America, people often think that the Church is no longer a reliable moral guide, primarily in issues related to the family, which they see as a private matter to be decided independently,” it states.

Focusing on complaints from Catholics denied the sacrament after they divorce and remarry, the report states that such denial “does not mean that they are excluded from the Christian life and a relationship with God.”

But Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who is organizing the synod, said he did agree with a common request from survey respondents to simplify and speed up the church’s actions on marriage annulments.

The report also found that “a vast majority of responses” considered church dictates on contraception an “intrusion” into private life, although it appeared to reject a rule change, arguing that natural methods of birth control should not be discounted.

Respondents were “clearly opposed” to adoption of children by same-sex couples, the report said, but they did back the baptism of such children.

Referring to people living in same-sex unions, the report said that bishops “are trying to find a balance between the Church’s teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions.”

Kington is a special correspondent.