Survey has hard messages for Church


WELLINGTON — The responses of more than 2000 New Zealand Catholics provided to the survey for the Third Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family showed Catholics feel that the Church is “out of touch”, even “hypocritical”, in some of its teachings.
Despite their feelings of exclusion and hurt for not being able to live up to the teachings, however, the respondents said they feel a “deep sense of connection to the Church” and that they are “hanging onto their faith” with the help of supportive individuals in the Church.
The summary of the responses to the preparatory document for the extraordinary synod released by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference revealed what many Catholics think about the realities of modern family life that they are facing.
■ Definition of Family
Many of the respondents considered the Church’s definition of the family as a father, a mother and their children as lacking in understanding “of the diverse nature of modern families”.
Other family groupings like single-parent families, grandparents bringing up grandchildren, families blended from previous marriages as well as culturally sanctioned adoptions feel “inferior” to the traditional families.
Many also felt the reports of sexual abuse by the clergy have “undermined their faith in priests and bishops as teachers in matters of sexual morality”.
■ Cohabitation
Cohabitation is a reality among Catholics. Living together before marriage is seen as a pathway to marriage rather than a substitute.
“Cohabitation is seen as making a commitment to one another, and an opportunity to develop the
relationship before they are ready to announce their commitment to the world in marriage,” the summary stated.
The document said 90 per cent of couples attending pre-marriage courses have lived together for a period of six months to five years.
As 80 per cent of the couples marry non-Catholics, they face pressure from within their relationship to ignore the Church’s teaching on cohabitation.
■ Divorce and remarriage
Respondents thought the Church teaching on divorce and remarriage unfairly penalises the innocent party, particularly in cases where the marriage broke down because of abuse, addiction or adultery.
“This is seen as particularly hard on women as they usually have to raise the children, and are more often the innocent partner. Remaining single is seen as a huge penalty for something which is not their fault,” the summary stated.
With one out of three marriages in New Zealand breaking down, the Church is overwhelmed in terms of providing pastoral care.
Catholics who have divorced and remained single said they feel very strongly that they have failed according to the Church’s teaching and that they are being treated as
“second-class citizens”.
Those who have divorced and remarried said they felt the same and that they are judged by fellow parishioners for compounding their failure by marrying again.
“They expressed huge pain and anguish for themselves and their wider families over what they saw as their estrangement from the Church,” the summary stated.
Not being able to receive the Eucharist is both “embarassing and painful”, according to the respondents.
Some travel to parishes where they are not known, to receive Holy Communion.
The responses also revealed that Catholics view annulment as “legal dishonesty”.
“The process is viewed as a means of getting around the rules rather than accepting that the rules don’t always work,” the summary said.
People who have been through the process found it long and difficult despite the best efforts of the tribunal staff .
■ Same-sex unions
There is a generational divide in the views regarding same-sex marriage. Most older Catholics believe that marriage between a man and a woman conforms to natural laws.
Younger Catholics, mostly under the age of 40, find the Church’s position unjust and unacceptable.
“They consider that homosexual couples have the same ‘right’ as heterosexual couples to have their union recognised by the state. They see the Church as narrow-minded on this issue, and out of touch with modern research on the origins of homosexuality,” the summary said.
Although there are committed homosexual Catholics who are living chaste lives, the responses showed that the teaching on homosexuality itself is hurtful not only to gay Catholics but also to their families and a number of people across the age spectrum.
“Terms such as ‘intrinsically disordered’ will always be profoundly hurtful,” the statement added.
Support for homosexual unions, however, does not translate to support for adoptions by homosexual couples.
Most Catholics still believe that having a mother and a father is best for children.
■ Contraception
A great majority of the respondents reject the Church teaching on contraception, considering it a matter of conscience for the married couple, not for the priest.
“Many said that following the Church’s teaching on contraception is irresponsible, not responsible, parenthood,” the statement revealed.
“A number of Catholics consider the Church is hypocritical in prohibiting artificial contraception while supporting natural family planning, which they consider to be just as contraceptive in its intention as artificial contraception, but burdensome and risky.”
Most married Catholic couples, the summary said, decide to use contraception based on the economic situation of the family and the wellbeing of the marriage itself.
“Their reasoning is not always in accord with the Church’s teaching, but neither is it selfish or hedonistic,” the summary said.
“It is unhelpful to describe the choices that couples make about the number of children as being egotistical, selfish or the product of the desire for a life of pleasure, because it leads people to believe that the Church does not understand or care about their difficulties.”
The responses also showed that Catholics reject abortion as an alternative when contraception fails.
Editor’s Note: This summary of the responses is available from,
or from the NZCBC Communications Adviser, PO Box 1937, Wellington 6140.

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Rowena Orejana

Reader Interactions


  1. Jan says

    The simple fact is that the Catholic Church’s teaching is based on Christ’s teaching. Therefore, we cannot change Christ’s teachings to conform with sin as Cardinal Burke has pointed out. Generations past have managed despite wars and a Great Depression. If this is the true result of the survey then many Catholics have gone too soft on themselves and it is up to us to change not the Church.

  2. Francis says

    Every mention of “Church” in this article should be replaced with “Jesus/the Catholic Church/God/Holy Scripture” – eg “some/many Catholics believe that Jesus/the Catholic Church/God/Holy Scripture’s position on homosexuality/contraception/fornication etc is unjust/narrow minded etc…. I’m sorry but God cannot be unjust/narrow minded etc. God created us and he knows what is best for us. He lets us know what that is through Holy Scripture and through the teaching Magisterium of the Church. These teachings regarding Faith and Morals cannot be changed. You cannot change the teachings of God’s Church to suit how you want it to be. If a person wants to ignore God’s teachings in a serious matter (which all the above are) – without later going to confession, they objectively may die with Mortal Sin on their Soul. Priests needs to be preaching about these issues (with patience and charity) in their sermons, even if they may be hard to hear for some. Just like a doctor should tell a alcoholic with serious liver problems to stop drinking. To tell his patient that is not uncaring/narrow minded etc.

  3. maureen says

    I believe people are born homosexual, heterosexual, bi-sexual, transgender, and other. God made them this way, so what is His/Her lesson to us all?

    Definitions re God’s gender orientation are just as limiting He or She as are God’s variations of gender in us humans.

    • Gary Yates says

      No Maureen. Refer: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1: 26-28,
      1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5-7, 2 Peter 3:16 (for those who deny St Paul’s authority). And CCC 2357.

  4. Graeme says

    Regrettably, this summary/report of the survey’s responses smacks of the same “liberal” slant which has come to characterise Catholic Communications in recent decades.
    It really is distressing when one finds oneself unable to trust the Church’s bureaucrats.
    Of course, the position is exacerbated by the zeal of the “liberals” for making manifold responses to such surveys.

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