St Columba's survey reveals desire for radical change in church

A LANDMARK survey conducted by a Ballarat Catholic parish has shown parishioners are open to radical change.

Support for the inclusion of homosexuals, gay and lesbian marriage and couples using alternative means of conceiving are just some of the findings of a recent survey conducted by St Columba’s Parish.

Hundreds of people were surveyed by the church as part of a worldwide review on Catholic families being conducted by the Vatican.

St Columba’s is one of 51 parishes that make up the Diocese of Ballarat.

The survey found almost 50 per cent of parishioners supported gay and lesbian couples getting married in a civil ceremony, almost 50 per cent were supportive of homosexual people having sexual relations and about 80 per cent of people were in favour of couples using alternative means for birthing a child including IVF and surrogacy. 

Parish leadership team member Derek Streulens supported the results and said members of the parish were not surprised by the findings. 

“I’ve always found the Catholic Church to be a rather broad umbrella in which a multitude of views are contained,” he said. 

“It seems to me that some non-Catholic commentators see Catholics as unthinking automatons blindly following decrees from the top. I don’t think it’s ever been like that, to be honest. People have always made up their own minds and continue to do so.”

The survey found almost 50 per cent of parishioners supported gay and lesbian couples getting married in a civil ceremony, almost 50 per cent were supportive of homosexual people having sexual relations and about 80 per cent of people were in favour of couples using alternative means for birthing a child including IVF and surrogacy.

The survey found more than 65 per cent were in favour of de facto relationships and more than 70 per cent were in favour of people remarrying without an annulment. 

The survey also reveals that 60 per cent desired a more rapid rate of change in the church.

“In the parish community, we need to care about everybody,” Mr Streulens said. “That includes the people who are uncomfortable with the speed of change happening within the church. We have to look after them as well.

“It doesn't mean we change direction, it just means that we ensure that they are cared for as well and that they feel heard.”

Mr Streulens said the results seemed to indicate a grassroots change within the Ballarat community, which is part of shift in broader Catholic thinking, reflected in recent comments by the pope.

Mr Streulens said a watershed moment in the church had been the election of Pope Francis, who had shown a softer stance on core issues since being elected last March.

Last July, when asked about homosexual priests, Pope Francis said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

Mr Streulens said his hope was the survey results would spark conversations about sexuality and other topical issues that could be included in parish priest Father Barry Ryan’s future discussions and mass services.

“The reality is a lot of people, as we become more educated, are accepting of the modern realities of life,” Mr Steulens said. 

“It’s not enough to say you’ve done this wrong and we don’t agree. It’s about how we continue to include people who are part of our family or part of the church regardless of their differences. Its acceptance, not cutting them off because of their sexuality or decisions in life."

Of the respondents, 168 were women and 58 were male. More than 60 per cent of respondents were aged 55 and over, 31 per cent were aged 35 to 54 and 8 per cent were aged 18 to 34.

The Courier contacted the Bishop of Ballarat’s office for comment, but he could not be reached before the paper went to print.

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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