In October 2014, an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops met in Rome. The topic was ‘Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation’. At the end of the gathering, the Synod summarised the outcome of this meeting in the Relatio Synodi, which focussed on the pastoral concerns raised by the Synod in relation to contemporary families. These concerns are to be addressed more fully in the Ordinary Synod, to be held in Rome in October 2015. The topic of this Synod is to be ‘The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World’. In order to prepare for this Synod, the Synod Fathers have asked for input not only from the Bishops’ Conferences around the world, but also from Catholic men and woman who face the concerns discussed by the Extraordinary Synod in their daily lives. In order to help the Bishops’ Conferences to gather the requisite information from the lay faithful, the Synod circulated the Lineamenta. This document contained about 46 different questions which the Bishops’ Conferences could consult in their survey of the lay faithful. This input from lay Catholics, together with input from the Bishops’ Conferences, is to be submitted to Rome this year to better inform the discussions which will take place at the Ordinary Synod.

In February 2015, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (‘SACBC’) distributed a survey to Catholics around South Africa to gather the information the Extraordinary Synod requested. This survey was distributed in various forms. The survey could be completed either in hard copy and handed to the SACBC, or it could be filled out online.

Noting the importance of gathering information from Catholics, clergy and lay faithful, for the Ordinary Synod later this year, the Jesuit Institute prepared a questionnaire based on the Lineamenta circulated by the Bishops at the Extraordinary Synod last year (‘Institute Questionnaire’). The Institute Questionnaire was made available online for Catholics to complete. Also, focus groups were organised by the Institute to discuss the Institute Questionnaire in different contexts – i.e. townships, suburbia and inner city.

The report which follows summarises the input gathered from the focus groups as well as the input gathered by the online survey. Part One of the report will briefly outline the structure of the Institute Questionnaire. Parts Two, Three and Four will summarise the input gathered by the Jesuit Institute which follows the areas for discussion mentioned in the Lineamenta. Part Five will summarise the major trends which have been identified in this study.






The Institute Questionnaire follows the structure of the Relatio Synodi and the Lineamenta, and comprises of three sections.

The first section deals with family and married life in the context of the Church’s teaching. The second and third sections deal with pastoral application of the Church’s teaching.

The second section focusses on what the Relatio Synodi refers to as ‘Wounded Families’. The Institute Questionnaire chooses to categorise such families as ‘Unconventional Families’. Unconventional families may include families with single parents, divorced parents (regardless of whether the parents have remarried or not), parents who are separated, parents who are of the same sex, and families which rely on uncles and aunts and other family members for support (‘Unconventional Families’).

Finally, the third section deals with pastoral perspectives more broadly, and contains questions regarding marriages between unbaptised persons, couples who are married civilly but not sacramentally, couples who are cohabiting, admittance of divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist, pastoral care of LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexed) Catholics, dialogue between the Church and the biomedical industry as well as interfaith dialogue on all these issues.



A number of issues arose in understanding ‘family’ in the African context. The challenges, for example, facing Catholic families in traditional African cultures where the family is not defined by the parents and children, but where the extended family plays such a large role in the upbringing of the children was discussed. One significant challenge facing such families is where a young widow leaves the old family unit and joins a new family to be with her new husband. Such a situation in traditional African cultures can create tensions between families, especially when the new family is not Catholic.

It was clear from the focus groups that a Eurocentric idea of family (two parents and a number of children) tends not fit the experience of family in traditional African cultures very well. Furthermore, the increasing trend of children who grow up without two biological parents was highlighted. In many places the extended family takes over the responsibility of raising children in situations where the nuclear family, for whatever reason, has broken down. However, when questioned on this reality, the participants in the focus groups said that they considered members of the extended family to be a ‘mother or father’ to them in such situations. Finally, the increasing reality of child-headed families means that the grandparents (in many situations) tend to take over the responsibility of raising the children.


A major problem that was uncovered, both in the focus groups and in the survey, was that even if there are programmes which parishes offer to help promote marriage, and motherhood and fatherhood more generally, these programmes are not well known by parishioners. A significant setback for parishes and the Church in providing formation in the area of marriage and parenthood is communication concerning its training programmes. It is important to note that there seems to be a large potential for neighbouring parishes to share their resources in the context of formation programmes. Parishes which run good formation programmes (talks, discussions, courses) should be encouraged to invite neighbouring parishes to participate in such formation programmes. Again, communication is a major challenge in this regard. Sharing of information is vital to effective use of resources. If neighbouring parishes were more aware of what was happening in local areas, then more Catholics stand to benefit from formation programmes which the Church is currently offering.

The Church does currently run programmes which promote the value of marriage, and motherhood and fatherhood in general. Engaged Encounter and Prepare are offered as marriage preparation courses for many parishes. In Soweto, for example, the programme Mina Nawe has proven to be a very successful programme helping couples prepare for marriage. Marriage Encounter and the Alpha Marriage course reach out to couples who have been married for a number of years. Retrouvaille is a programme that offers help to marriages which are struggling or in danger of breaking up. The SACBC Family Life Desk Parish Family Ministry offers formation programmes in marriage and family life, as well as Focolare – new families, Couples for Christ and Teams of Our Lady.

Apart from courses given to people either who are married or who are thinking of getting married, the Church seems to be offering very little in terms of promoting the value of marriage and of motherhood and fatherhood more generally. It was mentioned in the response to the survey that RCIA courses and catechesis leading up to Confirmation cover marriage and family life. However, the survey suggested very strongly that Catholics are not aware of any specific promotion of marriage or parenthood by the Church. Parishes may support marriage and family life in small ways, for instance by asking families to light a candle on the altar before Mass, by sharing the Year of the Family candle with different families for a week at a time or by celebrating Mother’s and Father’s day. However, apart from priests speaking of marriage and parenthood in homilies, there is a real lack of specific promotion of marriage and parenthood in the Church.

Some suggestions which emerged in the survey concerning how the Church may promote marriage and parenthood are instructive. One suggestion was that teaching initiatives about marriage and parenthood need to happen at an earlier stage in formation, for instance at school level. Considering that the Eurocentric model of family might not be operative in many South African families, and considering that Unconventional Families may describe the majority of South African family life, such training programmes may need to incorporate discussion of Unconventional Family structures, together with the different outlooks on motherhood and fatherhood which such structures contemplate.


An interesting question which was found in the Lineamenta concerned the level of support which priests currently give to the emotional or affective life of families. About half of all those who submitted responses to the Institute Questionnaire said that priests help support the emotional or affective life of families. However, just as many said that priests need greater education in this area, for instance formation focussing on psychology and counselling. Furthermore, a significant majority (about 80%) indicated that priests need laypeople to help with supporting families on this level. In the focus groups, people also said that they would be comfortable approaching priests to help with problems in their marriages.

About 30% of responses indicated that, for one reason or another, priests are not able to provide support for the emotional well-being of families. One major factor that seems to be operative in this lack of ability to support the affective development of families seems to be that priests do not have the time for this ministry and in particular lack the ability to conduct pastoral visits to all families in the parish. These concerns lend support to the suggestion by the majority of the survey responses that laypeople need to help the parish priest in this ministry. This need for lay support also needs to be seen in the context of the current shortage of priests.

This outcome from the survey was echoed in the responses to question 5 of the Institute Questionnaire. This question asked what initiatives were being undertaken at parish level to develop a nurturing environment in the family that is centred on Christ. The focus groups suggested that the time a parish priest has to develop a nurturing family environment seems limited, and he is often not able to visit each family in his parish. The suggestion was raised that it is extremely valuable for the parish to be split up into ‘areas’ or ‘Sections’. Sections are run and administered by laypeople. Regular house Masses are conducted in the separate Sections by the parish priest. This enables him to have more regular contact with the people in his parish. Also, if a problem arises in a family in a particular Section, then the Section is in a position to provide support to the family. If the Section leader is not able to resolve the problem, the priest is alerted and is then able to either assist the family or refer the family to others who may help.

In addition to Sections, a significant proportion of the responses to the survey as well as the input from the focus groups suggested that faith sharing groups (like CLC, Renew or sodalities) provide a significant support to families. If families experience problems, then the support to work through these problems is available through friendship networks. These networks of support form organically and are great sources of strength to struggling families. It was suggested that pastoral outreach to marginalised families or new families happens primarily through these small Christian faith sharing groups.

An interesting point was emphasised at one of the focus groups. There were quite a few young parents present at the focus group, and they expressed a deep need to know how to raise good Catholic families. Their need seemed to focus more on profound practical challenges to raising such families, which courses on the family could not hope to address. What seemed to be lacking in the lives of these young parents was a sharing of practical knowledge by older generations of successful parents. There seems to be no practical platform in parishes in which such essential knowledge can be transferred. No suggestions, apart from getting the Sections to work more efficiently and small Christian faith groups, seemed to be forthcoming as to how to fill this gap.

The point mentioned above concerning young families or young Catholic parents was dealt with in question 9 of the Institute Questionnaire. This question asked what initiatives were being undertaken in parishes to accompany young couples in the early stages of marriage. A significant proportion of the survey responses (46%) indicated that parishioners did not know of any initiatives being undertaken at parish level for support young couples. A large percentage (38%) indicated that Marriage Encounter was available. However, it is submitted that this programme isn’t designed for young couples in mind. This seems to indicate that a serious gap exists in the support given to young families.


Question 6 of the Institute Questionnaire focused on what practical steps needed to be undertaken to develop a family spirituality in Catholic parishes in South Africa. Some interesting suggestions were presented in the responses to the Institute Questionnaire.

One suggestion was that prayer resources need to be developed and made available to families. The point made above about support being available in the Church, but that Catholics are not aware of it, is valid here. The MarFam programme is specifically designed to assist the development of a family spirituality. In addition, the point made above concerning faith sharing groups is relevant here. One prominent suggestion in the survey indicated that faith sharing groups for families need to be encouraged. One suggestion that came up in the survey was that faith sharing among members of the family itself be encouraged.

An important point that arose from the input gathered was that any family spirituality is dependent on the adults in the family having a life of prayer and faith. A recommendation that was related to this point was that parishes desperately need more adult ongoing faith formation programmes, especially in the lives of young adults before they have children. Some suggestions for formation programmes include afternoon reflections for families, retreats for families, and discussions / talks on family life issues. Other suggestions include encouraging families to spend more time together, and in particular to spend the Sabbath together.


An important question in the Institute Questionnaire concerned formation of priests today, which was question 7. This question asked how the family is emphasised in the formation of priests and whether families had any input into this formation. About 50% of the responses to the survey indicated that parishioners did not know how family is emphasised in the formation of priests. About 32% of the responses indicated that family is either not emphasised, or at least to a very small degree in formation. One response from a theological formation centre for priests indicated that the family is not emphasised at all in the formation of priests, except with reference to marriage problems and Canon Law. Many candidates for the priesthood are also products of Unconventional Families which, no doubt, impacts on their worldview.

If the above responses reflect the actual level of input concerning the family that priests get in their formation, a serious gap exists in the formation of priests.

Two responses in the survey make interesting suggestions in this regard. One suggestion is that in the process of formation, seminarians should have input from representatives of the family. In particular (foreshadowing the input from the next section) seminarians should be addressed by representative from all types of families, including Unconventional Families. The other suggestion is that parishioners should be able to give input to those involved in the formation of seminarians as to the suitability of a candidate for the priesthood.





The significant question in the Institute Questionnaire regarding Unconventional Families was question 11. This question asked what actual outreach occurred at the parish level to so called Unconventional Families. Exactly 50% of those answering the Institute Questionnaire were not aware of any outreach being undertaken in their parishes to Unconventional Families. About 30% of the respondents to this question chose to focus not on what outreach is currently being undertaken by parishes to Unconventional Families, but on what they thought should be done. The picture which emerges from these responses is that actually about 80% of the people surveyed are not aware of any outreach currently being undertaken by parishes to Unconventional Families. This highlights an important challenge for the Catholic Church, and a significant gap in pastoral care.

Question 12 of the Institute Questionnaire provides a framework to think about possibilities of growth in pastoral outreach in Catholic structures. Question 12 asks how ordained ministers can help Unconventional Families understand and experience the mercy of God. A significant percentage (60%) of respondents encouraged ordained ministers to welcome all families as being part of the parish and to avoid treating such families differently to others. Quite a few (30%) of the respondents indicated that ordained ministers needed to speak more of God’s love and mercy to Unconventional Families. This point was emphasised in focus groups and advocated an approach to Unconventional Families emphasising the love and mercy of God, and a non-judgmental attitude. This approach was also emphasised in the focus groups regarding the pastoral care of LGBTI Catholics and their families.

Concerning children who find themselves in Unconventional Families, a respondent to the survey spoke of the need not to make the child self-conscious about being part of an Unconventional Family. The respondent emphasised that educational institutions need to be profoundly sensitive in the way they spoke of family situations. Language here seems to be vital in the pastoral care of children.

An important point was raised in the focus groups, as well as in the survey, concerning the identification of Unconventional Families. Quite a few responses in the survey indicated that people in Unconventional Families were not easily identified by parish priests, and the parish priest was therefore not able to provide pastoral support for this group. One suggestion in the survey indicated that a survey of those in Unconventional Families should be done so that a parish knows that such a pastoral need exists. Another suggestion in the survey drew attention to the fact that those Catholics in same-sex unions may be attending church services, but remain hidden from the parish priest. Lack of awareness as to the existence of Unconventional Families in a parish seems therefore to constitute a major barrier to parish support for these families.

When this was discussed at focus groups, one reason offered for the hidden nature of such families were that they were ashamed of being known as Unconventional Families. The suggestion given in that focus group to this problem was outreach by the small faith sharing groups which were encouraged in Part Two of this report. This point was made that when people have problems in their marriage or come from Unconventional Families, they tend to feel ashamed and therefore stay away from the Church.

Another suggestion about outreach mentioned in the responses to the survey was that the Church needed to give serious consideration to the language being used when speaking of families. The suggestion was that more credence should be given to the definition of a family mentioned at Vatican II, namely a ‘community of life and love’. It was suggested that one possible alternative definition of family is a ‘group that is centred on Christ’.

Practical suggestions for pastoral support for Unconventional Families which were offered in the focus groups and survey included the following. Support groups could be formed, with these specific groups in mind. Parishes could offer after-care facilities and other such programmes to help single parents and also child-headed households (like skills development programmes).


Question 13 of the Institute Questionnaire focussed on what could be done at parishes to engender a sense of respect, trust and encouragement in parents / guardians of Unconventional Families. Quite a large number in the survey (42%) suggested that parishes allow these families to participate fully in the Church as ‘normal parishioners’. This suggestion seems to speak to the access such families have to the Sacraments. This will be dealt with in greater detail under the heading ‘Pastoral Perspectives’ in Part Four.

A significant number of responses to this question (also about 40%) indicated that priests and deacons need to make sure that they do not communicate judgmental attitudes towards Unconventional Families and thereby provide support to parents / guardians of such families.

Other suggestions include allowing parents / guardians of Unconventional Families to undertake special marriage preparation specifically designed for such families. This seems to relate specifically to persons joined in civil unions and /or traditional marriage ceremonies. Also, the suggestion was made in the survey that parents / guardians of Unconventional Families be given leadership roles in the parish to highlight the parishes’ welcome of such persons. Finally, the survey suggested that support groups be formed for these parishioners, and that catechesis should include content on Unconventional Families which does not judge or isolate such individuals in the parish.


This section of the Institute Questionnaire deals with specific pastoral challenges in the light of the Synod’s concern about Unconventional Families.


Question 14 of the Institute Questionnaire asks what is being done at a parish level to acknowledge the value of marriage between unbaptised persons, and to encourage such persons to be baptised.

About 45% of respondents in the questionnaire did not know what was being done in parishes for married and unbaptised persons. One respondent indicated that it is possible for a person to be married under African Customary Law and not be baptised. Other respondents suggested that homilies focus on this issue, and that these parishioners should be encouraged to take part in the RCIA programme.

What is clear from the survey and suggestions is that there seems to be no specific parish outreach to these parishioners, and that the people being surveyed were not aware that it is even possible to be married without being baptised. It seems that people joined in civil marriages and marriages under African Customary Law are dealt with primarily as non-Catholics who need to be helped to join the Church. It is submitted that catechesis should help Catholics be aware of what civil marriages and traditional African marriages are.


This topic overlaps to a large degree with the previous question. Question 15 of the Institute Questionnaire asked whether parishioners were aware of the criteria used by priests when they were dealing with people who are married civilly and not sacramentally.

A significant proportion of the respondents (83%) said that they did not know what criteria were used by priests in approaching these situations. Some respondents indicated that priests try to encourage those who are married civilly but not sacramentally to enter into sacramental marriage. Other respondents indicated that priests are willing to bless unions, while at the same time making sure the couple understands that such a blessing is not the same as marriage.

A similar pastoral challenge to civil marriages, in the absence of sacramental marriage, is cohabitation. Question 10 of the Institute Questionnaire asked what pastoral care is given in parishes to couples who are cohabiting as part of the process of marriage under African Customary Law. A significant number of respondents to this question (46%) indicated that they did not know of any pastoral care being given to such couples. Other respondents suggested that pastoral care is being given to such couples by the Lumko Institute, as well as the Mina Nawe project. Others in the survey responded to this question by saying that some priests invite the couple to have a convalidation.

Whereas question 10 focusses on cohabitation in the context of traditional African unions, question 16 of the Institute Questionnaire focusses on cohabitation more broadly. The same number of respondents (45%) responded that they did not know of any pastoral care given to cohabiting couples in the parish. Some respondents to this question said that the institution of marriage was losing support among people these days.

In question 10 and 16, apart from discussing the quality of pastoral care currently available to cohabiting couples, also focussed on what appropriate pastoral care should look like. There were many suggestions in this regard by respondents to the survey. A good percentage (30%) recommended that ordained ministers need to be pastorally supportive and compassionate to cohabiting couples, meeting the parishioners where they are in their search for God and helping them to grow in their relationship with God. One respondent suggested that if an unmarried couple has a child, then that child should be given the same access to the Sacrament of Baptism as children of couples who are married within the Church. Another respondent suggested that pastoral care should focus on encouraging fidelity within the existing relationships between those cohabiting and those within traditional African unions.

A strong trend in the answers to question 10 and 16, as well in the focus groups when discussing this topic, was that cohabiting couples who are either married civilly and not sacramentally or were not married at all and were cohabiting, are virtually hidden from view in the parish. If any pastoral care is given to the couple by the priest, it is because they have approached the priest. A priest is not likely to know that such couples exist in his parish, unless the couples approach him to get married in a sacramental union. Moreover, one respondent in the survey suggested that in any case, such couples may not want to be known. The invisibility of such couples would make pastoral care by the priest virtually impossible. Also, as was highlighted, if people are cohabiting and realise that by doing so they are sinning in the eyes of the Church, they will stay away from the Church. This makes pastoral care of cohabiting couples on the one hand difficult and on the other hand, vitally important.

From this perspective, one respondent said that the parish should be a lot more active in reaching out to people on the margins of parish life. In this context, the point made in Section Two above, under the heading ‘Emotional and Practical Support’, is important. It was stated in focus groups that faith sharing groups (CLC, Renew etc) need to reach out to parishioners who are marginalised in the parish. It is the active reaching out by parish groups to marginalised Catholics (those hidden from view) and those who are hesitant to share their struggles with others that becomes transformative in parishes. As was mentioned in this focus group, the parish priest cannot do everything and be everywhere. From this perspective, the practical pastoral support that lay people can give to people in the parish needs to be emphasised by the Church. This came out in the survey, where a respondent suggested that pastoral care of cohabiting parishioners is largely done through married friends.


Question 17 of the Institute Survey focussed on how the Church can encourage dialogue between different Christian churches and other faiths regarding pastoral care of those parishioners living in Unconventional Families.

This question highlighted two important themes that came out strongly in the focus groups, namely administrative / pastoral support of members and communication.

Firstly, concerning the first theme of administrative / pastoral support, it was noted that the Catholic Church has a lot to learn from the approach that other Christian churches take in ministering care and support. The Mormon Church was mentioned as a model in both administration and support of its members, in particular with regard to families.

Secondly, concerning the second theme of communication, focus groups mentioned that when Catholics went to certain other Christian denominations, they knew everything that was happening in that church within two hours. From this perspective, the Catholic Church can really learn a lot about communication. As was mentioned in Part Two in the discussion about the promotion of the value of marriage, communication is an area that churches really need help on. Programmes exist for Catholics, they just don’t know about them. Therefore, it is instructive to learn from other Christian denominations and people may even be led to think that they have something the Catholic Church does not.

Another area where ecumenical dialogue was highlighted as important was in the area of mixed marriages. One focus group discussed a situation where a parishioner had approached a priest when their daughter was seeking to get married to a non-Catholic. The priest was pastorally sensitive, and elected to work with the other Christian church for marriage preparation and conduct of the marriage itself. As a result, the parishioner indicated that the two families had a good relationship together. It seems a pastoral approach to mixed marriages directly invites the ordained minister to enter into ecumenical dialogue with other Christian denominations.

Finally, question 4 of the Institute Questionnaire focussed on families and the part they have to play in evangelisation. A comment that came out in the survey was that Catholic parents have a lot to learn from other Christian denominations about evangelisation. In many cases, Protestant families are much more vocal in their families about their faith. Some Catholic churches encourage parents to take an active part in the catechesis of their children. This is a trend that must be encouraged in the Catholic Church more broadly in South Africa.

In terms of suggestions for interfaith dialogue and ecumenical dialogue, the survey highlighted that such dialogues can grow naturally through informal links between the priest and spiritual leaders of other faiths or denominations. This is to be encouraged. In addition, a proactive approach should be supported in parishes for such dialogue to occur. Finally, the survey acknowledged that there was an urgent need to pursue this dialogue and that the Catholic Church needs to be less arrogant in its approach in this dialogue.


Question 18 of the Institute survey asked whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be admitted to the Eucharist.

This is a highly sensitive topic in the Church at the moment. However, the survey showed that 80% of the Catholics who took the survey agreed that divorced and remarried Catholics should be admitted to the Eucharist. This was supported by answers to question 13 of the Institute Questionnaire. This question was discussed in Part Three above, and the question concerns the support parishes should be giving to parents in Unconventional Families. According to the answers to this question in the survey, 42% suggested that parishes allow the parents of these families to participate fully in the Church as normal parishioners. This seems to support the idea that parents should be allowed to participate in the Eucharist. A large part of Catholic identity involves participating in the Eucharist. This would therefore be something that a normal Catholic should be able to do. Not allowing such parents to participate in the Eucharist would be counterintuitive when considering pastoral support more broadly to marginalised Catholics and parents of Unconventional Families in particular. It would have the effect of further entrenching a feeling of marginalisation and lack of support from the parish.

Not all responses were so enthusiastic though. About 12% of the respondents said that wholesale permission for divorced and remarried Catholics should not be given, and each case should be dealt with on their merits by the parish priest. This approach was given support in some of the focus groups. While some in the focus group were in favour of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist, others said that this approach should be extended on a case by case basis. This group said that the Catholic position regarding marriage and its indissolubility ideal, and that it should not be too easy to ‘get out of a marriage’. Good marriage preparation was stressed by this focus group in the context of this question.

Two other points raised in responses to the survey are worth mentioning here. There is an inequality, people think, between the way perpetrators of abuse in unhealthy marriages are treated and the way divorced and remarried Catholics are treated. The perpetrators of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in unhealthy marriages tend to remain in communion with the Church after abuse, while the spouses who are the victims of abuse are excluded from communion if they seek divorce and get remarried in a loving stable relationship. The opinion in the survey was that there is a major injustice in this situation. Also, in connection with the annulment process, the opinion was raised that the process is too cumbersome and this represented a practical barrier to those seeking aid from the Church in these situations. Should parishioners take the matter into their own hands by pursuing divorce, these parishioners are excluded from communion with the Church. The sentiment in this response was that parishioners should not have to be forced into this state by a cumbersome annulment process. Some clergy complained about the long, tedious and inefficient process of annulment that led them, at times, to despair. A number of people have left the Church because this process is handled badly and causes much tension for applicants and parish priests.


Question 19 of the Institute Questionnaire dealt with the recommended pastoral care of LGBTI Catholics. Like the admittance of divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist, this too is a sensitive topic in the Church.

No input either from the focus groups, or from the survey, recommended that the Church should exclude LGBTI Catholics from participation in the Church. Some respondents to the survey (20%) said that support groups should be formed for this group. The same percentage of respondents indicated further that such groups should not be judgmental in their approach or seek to convert these Catholics, but said rather that pastoral care for such Catholics should focus on working with LGBTI Catholics to build a healthy relationship with God. In the context of pastoral support, 13% of responses to the survey indicated that ordained ministers need to combat homophobia, since pastoral support from a homophobic standpoint does more harm than good. A large percentage (46%) of the respondents indicated that LGBTI Catholics need to feel that their parish is welcoming and supportive.

In the focus groups, there tended to be a mixed reaction to this question. Some focus groups were split on the topic of pastoral care to LGBTI Catholics. Questions of gay marriage were hotly debated by groups. In addition, the idea of a gay group in Catholic parishes was looked upon sceptically by some Catholics. That being said, by and large it was accepted that LGBTI Catholics should be treated with respect and care. In other focus groups, gay groups were supported as well as pastoral care of LGBTI Catholics.

Some interesting suggestions as to pastoral care of LGBTI Catholics were included in the responses to the survey. One suggestion is that support should be given to LGBTI Catholics if they are considering civil unions. This support would focus on supporting such Catholics in building loving and stable long term relationships. This support may include retreats, days of recollection or courses. Another suggestion recommended that ordained ministers working with LGBTI Catholics should listen to the experience of such Catholics as a way of reaching out to the LGBTI Catholic community in their pastoral work. Finally, some respondents to the survey were concerned that any pastoral support of LGBTI Catholics should dialogue with the approach that modern psychology takes with LGBTI persons, and take on board any helpful insights the social sciences have into sexuality. This input from the survey lends support to the further suggestion that people with a particular charism should be getting into pastoral support with LGBTI Catholics. Lay counsellors or social workers could be encouraged to get involved with such pastoral outreach, if they are not involved in this already.


The final question in the Institute Questionnaire, question 20, focussed on the suggested interaction the Church should be encouraging with the sciences and biomedical technologies.

A significant number of responses to the survey (36%) recommended that if dialogue were to take place between the Church and the sciences, it would have to be a dialogue at the same level as the scientists taking part in the dialogue. This response is suggesting that Catholic scientists who are leaders in their field should be engaging in dialogue with the sciences from a Catholic standpoint. This would mean that the dialogue from the Catholic point of view would be scientifically rigorous enough to engage meaningfully with practitioners in their respective disciplines. Most clergy – priests and bishops – are not in a position to be involved in this dialogue as they do not have the necessary background.

The above point was supported by other responses in the survey. A significant number of responses to this question (27%) suggested that leaders in the field of moral theology should be debating with various scientists in different fields. Such dialogues preferably should be taking place at universities.

Other interesting responses to the survey said that the Church should be trying to fund and support these debates where it can. In connection with the question of dialogue, some respondents indicated that we need to balance respect for life and respect for scientific discovery. Other respondents suggested that since society is utilising biomedical technology to such a deep extent, that the Church really should be engaging in debate with the scientific community on modern developments. Debates on television came out as a strong recommendation in the survey. Presumably this suggestion could be expanded to include social media more broadly. Finally, since progress in particularly the biomedical field is happening at such a rapid pace, some respondents have said that education of Catholics as to the meaning and significance of such developments needs to be taking place. The formation of individual conscience is implicated in this response, so that Catholics can be guided in making well-informed moral decisions. From this perspective, one respondent in the survey suggested that the SACBC needs to have a permanent consultant at its disposal so that it is up to date with modern developments in the sciences.


In this final section, what will be outlined will be a summary of the major trends which the Institute identified in its focus groups and survey.

The first important response which needs to be highlighted came from focus groups. In particular, the definition of family and the use of language in particular in pastoral support of Unconventional Families. What became clear was that a Eurocentric concept of family is not necessarily very helpful in a traditional African context were the extended family plays such a large role in the care and support of the family. This leads naturally to a reflection on how important it is to be sensitive to the language employed during pastoral support of Unconventional Families. If the statistics are to be believed in South Africa, a minority of children in this country under the age of 18 (32%) are living with both biological mothers and fathers. This means that the majority of families in South Africa (68%) can be described as so called Unconventional Families. From this perspective, questions about pastoral support towards Unconventional Families are really questions about pastoral support to the majority of families in South Africa.

Another important trend which emerged from the survey had to do with the visibility of so called Unconventional Families. The lack of visibility of these families could come from feelings of shame or fear of being rejected by the Catholic community. However, one thing became clear in the survey and the focus groups, namely, that priests would not even be aware of the existence of Unconventional Families unless they approached the priest for pastoral care in some way. This applies in particular to cohabiting couples, those married in civil unions and same-sex individuals. The priest would only be aware of cohabiting couples, by and large, if such couples came to the priest in preparation for sacramental marriage. Therefore, when considering pastoral care of such individuals, the need to proactively reach out to such parishioners becomes evident. Considering the work load of many priests, such proactive pastoral work is almost impossible. Therefore, pastoral care by lay people of such parishioners becomes vitally important. Suitable training of such lay people is therefore necessary. Also, the importance of faith sharing groups and friendship support groups in pastoral care, in this context, cannot be overstressed. Splitting the parishes up into Sections, with house Masses, was also seen to be an effective pastoral outreach for Unconventional Families.

This lay participation in pastoral outreach becomes especially important if parish priests cannot find the time or the space to conduct house visits to families and provide personal pastoral support. This raises an important question about the life of ministry of priests. If the family (or as St. John Paul II said, ‘the domestic church’) is considered important, should priests not be giving this priority in their ministry? Lay support, either in the form of deacons, professionally trained psychologists or social workers, or faith sharing groups could provide much needed pastoral outreach to the families of the parish.

Even though the Church has many effective courses dealing with family life, marriage preparation and intervention, parishioners do not seem to be receiving the full benefit from such courses. The major obstacle in this regard was seen to be communication. Catholics simply are not aware of such programmes. This, again, raises the question of the priority of family ministry in the Church if people are not made aware of what is often called the most important ministry in the Church. If something is a priority and highly valued, it should be widely and persistently disseminated.

Therefore, the large wealth of resources available to Catholics, either through parishes or the SACBC Family Life Desk, cannot be utilised effectively. More effective communication, as well as sharing of resources by neighbouring parishes, was seen to be a significant recommendation in this regard.

A concern was raised in the survey regarding the level of input which seminarians had concerning the family. If the input is limited to looking at how to deal with family struggles from a Canon Law perspective, the feeling in the survey was that such input needed to be increased and deepened in order to better prepare seminarians for pastoral care. Their own personal circumstances and the model they have learnt through experience cannot be forgotten in their formation.

With regards the pastoral care of Unconventional Families, the survey indicated that the majority of respondents (80%) were not aware of any specific pastoral outreach in their parishes to Unconventional Families. This figure was supported in the answers to the questions concerning unbaptised parishioners and couples who are cohabiting. If these figures are indicative of pastoral care available in parishes in South Africa, this provides a challenge to the Church in South Africa to take a proactive stance to such groups of parishioners. The responses in the survey indicated that the majority (60%) recommended that Unconventional Families be welcomed and made to feel they are part of the parish. This approach was strongly recommended in the focus groups as well. This proactive stance, even if it were taken on board by priests in South Africa, may be particularly difficult considering the lack of visibility of such parishioners in parishes (as discussed above). It is submitted that a creative approach to pastoral outreach to Unconventional Families is recommended by the outcome of the survey.

The need for ecumenical work by priests, particularly in the context of mixed marriages, is highlighted by the survey and focus groups. The survey and focus groups indicated that the Church can learn a lot in its pastoral approach to Unconventional Families and mixed marriages in particular from other Christian denominations.

When considering the position of divorced and remarried Catholics in parishes in South Africa, a significant majority of the response to the survey (80%) were in favour of admitting such parishioners to the Eucharist. Such a response is supported by the recommended approach to parents of Unconventional Families, where the respondents to the survey indicated that an inclusive approach needs to be adopted. Other responses to the survey indicated that a more nuanced approach to such a question needs to be taken, namely dealing with each situation on a case by case basis.

The survey and focus groups indicated that a pastorally sensitive approach needs to be adopted to LGBTI Catholics. The focus groups and survey suggested that parishes should provide a welcome and supportive space to such parishioners. While parishes may wish to debate such divisive issues such as gay marriage and the morality of sexual expression by such Catholics, the focus groups and survey overwhelmingly agree that these Catholics need to be treated with respect and care.

Finally, on the topic of Church dialogue with the sciences, one strong theme that came out of the survey was that our top Catholic scientists should participate in dialogue on behalf of the Church with other scientists. This would mean that a debate where both sides have an equal grasp of the science can take place. In addition, moral theologians should be engaging in such dialogue with scientists in a university setting. Moreover, respondents to the survey felt that more input should be given to ordinary Catholics about the progress of the sciences and where the Church stood on the ethical use of the benefits of this progress. This was mentioned in the context of the formation of individual consciences to make responsible moral decisions. With this in mind, one response in the survey suggested that the SACBC should have a consultant well versed in the sciences permanently at its disposal, giving it the ability to respond to questions concerning the progress in the sciences.