KANPUR, ( # chhotebhai) — Poll surveys are the flavour of the season. By feeling the pulse of the people they are able to reasonably project or predict the outcome of an election. Before the advent of CT Scans and ultrasound, a GP would feel the patient’s pulse or touch his neck with the back of his hand, and arrive at a fairly accurate diagnosis, and prescribe treatment accordingly.
In public life there is no substitute for feeling the pulse of the people. There is the old Latin saying – Vox populii vox dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God). In ecclesiastical circles it is referred to as sensus fidei (the sense of the faithful).
In 2010 I had written an article “If I were the Pope”, in which I had stated that the pope would conduct a worldwide survey, from the bottom up, to gauge the thinking of the people. In 2013, shortly after his unexpected election, Pope Francis did order such a survey on family issues, sexuality and morality. Several countries have already conducted the survey, and their findings have been made public. The worldwide trend (it was no secret anyway) was that the laity’s understanding of sexual ethics was at great variance from the Catholic Church’s professed stand. The results so far are an outright rejection of the Church’s teachings. On the other hand, the bishops of India have shown neither the guts nor the gumption to conduct such a survey. Are they burying their ostrich heads in the sand?
In contrast, in 2011 I did conduct a survey on behalf of the All India Catholic Union (AICU). Perhaps the AICU, like the CBCI, has also lacked the guts and gumption to analyse the findings of the National Survey, and make its findings public. Though it was my brainchild, it was a thoroughly planned and executed survey, preceded by several rounds of discussions. At my insistence the data was made available to me, and the raw data is given at the bottom of this analysis.
Before one goes to the data it is critical to explain the methodology of the Survey, and also to give a profile of the respondents. If the methodology is correct, the responses free and fair, and the respondents varied and widespread, then there is good reason to believe that the final analysis is a fair reflection of the reality.
First the methodology. It was felt that the common “Yes/ No/ Don’t know” format was incorrect; as there was little that was black and white. Most things were various shades of grey. Hence the Questionnaire followed a grading system on a scale of 1 – 10, with an X mark for a “don’t know”. The responses reflect the awareness or agreement level of the respondents to specific questions, which were objective in nature. Since the Survey sought to know the pulse of the laity (church citizens) in India, it was only addressed to them, on issues that affected them.
The Survey itself was conducted with utmost transparency through publication in various journals, dissemination through the Catholic Associations, and a dedicated website. Even the website was programmed in such a manner as not to accept more than one response from the same email ID, to avoid manipulation of the responses. It may therefore be safely presumed that the Survey was free, fair and widespread.
The sample base of the respondents is over 1000, which is a reasonable figure, considering that poll pundits operate on a sample size of less than 10,000. Though attempts were made to translate the Questionnaire into other languages, it may be presumed that the respondents were basically English speaking or knowing. My home unit, the Kanpur Catholic Association (KCA) gathered all the respondents together (over 50), and explained the Questionnaire in Hindi. In the responses we see two sets of figures, e.g. 3.49/ 1.84. The first index is the All India grading, and the second one is the KCA grading. Since both sets were available with me I felt that publishing both would have its own relevance. In the respondents profile we find that the KCA respondents are somewhat lesser educated and from a lower income group than the All India average. This disparity is reflected in the responses that directly affect the poor and disadvantaged.
The Questionnaire itself had three distinct parts: A was Ecclesiological (pertaining to the internal functioning of the church); B was on Moral and Ethical issues; and C was on Sociological issues or Temporal Affairs.
On Ecclesiological issues we find a below par response, almost across the board. The only area where the church shows signs of healthy improvement is in inculturation and liturgical renewal. When it comes to rights and expectations, they are above par for the “Right to Information”, autonomy, transparency, accountability, dispute redressal and ecclesiastical appointments. The time has come for radical attitudinal transformation, and not just for cosmetic changes as in the liturgy.
On Moral and Ethical issues the Survey reflects the trend in other countries; that there is a yawning gap between what the Church professes and what church citizens are actually practicing. The lowest grade of 0.58 is given by the KCA regarding the laity being consulted on their specific issues of marriage, divorce, annulment, family planning and sexual ethics. The KCA gain gives a very low grading of 1.34 for the automatic excommunication (latae sententiae) of a woman undergoing an abortion, regardless of the circumstances!
In the area of Temporal Affairs/ Sociological issues too, there are only a few areas where the Church gets an above par grade, as in the treatment meted out to dalit and tribal Christians. The highest expectation, with a grade of 8.05, is for the demand for Dalit Christians to be treated on par with other dalits for Govt reservations etc. In this sector too, the KCA differs from the rest on some critical parameters. It gives a very low grade of 1.13 for the Church’s social welfare benefits going to our own people. Apparently the Catholic Church in India does not subscribe to the dictum that “charity begins at home”!
One must leave the readers to study the responses in detail, and arrive at their own conclusions. For now, one may safely state that, to date, this is the most reliable Survey on the life of the Catholic Church in India vis-à-vis it laity. Let us hope that it contributes towards a radical rethink in the Church, followed by concrete action. May the Holy Spirit lead us where it wills, provided, of course, that we are open to its promptings.