German and Swiss Catholics reject Vatican teachings on sex

AP

Most Catholics in Germany and Switzerland either ignore or outright reject the Catholic Church's views on issues surrounding sex, regarding them as outdated or unrealistic.

These are the results of a survey commissioned by the Vatican, ahead of an important meeting of bishops coming together to discuss family related issues, scheduled by Pope Francis for October of this year.

In their reactions, the German survey results said: "Most of the baptised have an image of the church that, on the one hand, is family friendly in its attitude, whilst at the same time considering her sexual morality to be unrealistic.

"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."

Speaking about sex before marriage, the German bishop's document said pre-marital unions were "not only a relevant pastoral reality, but one which is almost universal".

On divorce, the German report points out that: "Divorce and remarrying frequently lead to a process of becoming distant from the church."

The ban on artificial contraception is deemed by many surveyed Catholics not only unrealistic but "blatantly immoral" when there are health considerations such as HIV.

Ultimately, they claim that all of this will cause problems with membership levels: "Many no longer wish to be associated with an institution which they regard as unforgiving."

The Swiss report reaches similar conclusions, arguing that the mission of the church is threatened by insisting on extreme strictness regarding such directives.

The poll was sent to every national conference of bishops, who were asked by the Vatican to share it widely with Catholic institutions and parishioners. However the Vatican has not asked the bishops to share the results at this stage.

Nevertheless, the Catholic communities of Germany and Switzerland have gone ahead with making their findings public.  

Catholics in the US have remained much quieter about the results of the survey, with 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.

"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 bishop said. 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said it was conforming to Vatican guidelines by holding back from publishing the findings.

However other studies show that US Catholics are likely to agree with their European counterparts, particularly on contraception. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found three-quarters of US Catholics would support Church sanctioning of artificial birth control.

The results from Germany represent a continuing trend of German Catholics attempting to push the boundaries on these issues

Catholic teaching holds that believers who do not annull their first marriage, or declare it null and void by a church tribunal, are essentially living in sin and committing adultery if they remarry.

However, such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, leaving generations of Catholics feeling shunned and isolated.

In 2013, the German Diocese of Freiburg issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule.

If certain criteria are met, such as if both spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with proper motivations, they could receive Communion and other Catholic sacraments with the rest of the congregation.

The Vatican immediately shot down the initiative, with the Vatican's German doctrinal authorities insisting there was no way around the rule.

Despite the survey findings, theologians warned that Church doctrine is unlikely 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 Reverend Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome's Pontifical Holy Cross University, speaking on Inquirer.net.

"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.

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