As we journey in faith together
‘A Thousand Voices: The views, hopes and fears of the lay faithful in the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth’
Some months ago, I issued a survey to understand better what you the people and parishioners of our diocese think and what you consider is important as we journey in faith together. I wished to explore what you thought was good about the diocese, that we should celebrate; what might be identified as the challenges across our diocese; and what we may need to put in place to develop further our mission. The online questionnaire ran over Christmas and into the New Year and was promoted through parish newsletters and websites, parish groups and in the notices at the end of the Mass.
I want to express profound thanks to all those of you who took part in the online survey. We had a magnificent response with 1,775 respondents sharing over 40,000 comments and moments of personal insight. I would like to thank Professor Tim Cain, and the team who completed the analysis for the Herculean effort involved in pulling together the analysis of this survey and presenting them for us here.
‘A Thousand Voices: The views, hopes and fears of the lay faithful in the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth’ reflects several cross-cutting themes that emerged from the data. Our clergy featured strongly throughout, and parishioners provided a rich insight into their thoughts on the Mass and the Sacraments, on Prayer, Faith and Catechesis, and on Mission, Service and Evangelisation. Click below to download it.
I have asked our clergy to start working with me on developing a pastoral plan for our diocese and to reflect on and consider the themes that have emerged. I hope that you too will take the time to read and reflect on the document. Over the coming months there will be opportunities for clergy to work with laity at a local level so that we can together develop plans and priorities for the diocese so that we can truly be faithful missionary people in a flourishing and vibrant diocese that brings the joy and hope of the Gospel message to our communities and the wider world.
+ Philip Bishop of Portsmouth
Earlier this year, we undertook a Diocesan Survey: you can view or download the document here. The purpose of the survey was to understand better what you the people and parishioners of our Diocese consider to be important as we journey in faith together. The document is called A Thousand Voices: The views, hopes and fears of the lay faithful in the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth. Over these weeks, I highlight some of the results.
Questions 12-13, 24 and 29 asked participants about their faith. 88% described their faith as ‘very important’ to them; 10% described it as ‘somewhat important’ and only 2% said it was either ‘neutral’ or ‘not important’. Participants agreed that their faith influenced their choice of school for their child (83%); their involvement in their local community (76%); the way in which they spent their free time (75%); how they vote (68%); their friendship groups (59%) and their choice of job (45%). (17% skipped the question.) Of the 538 participants who volunteered written responses, 216 (55%) felt that their faith influenced all aspects of their life (‘My vocation as a married man, as a parent, the way I act in society … what to/not watch on the media. It steers my day to day decisions’). 77 commented on the influence of faith on their marriage and family life, including their choice of partner and the way in which they raised their children. 46 said that faith motivated them to donate to charities or to volunteer (‘The way I use my money and time, to help build up the Church’); 44 said that it influenced their choice of leisure activities, particularly their choice of television programmes or books. 35 respondents expressed the importance their faith had to them in times of difficulty, when sharing their faith or when participating in prayer or reading scripture.
Question 12 asked, ‘If you have stopped practising your faith, please tell us in a few sentences what influenced your decision and what if anything would make you reconsider’. For 93% of respondents, this question was not applicable – i.e. they had not stopped practising their faith. Within the remaining 7%, the reasons cited were (in order of magnitude) clergy, aspects of doctrine, experience of Mass and personal issues. For 42 respondents, the prime reason for leaving the church was to do with clergy. Twelve respondents cited abuse scandals; two of these reported some connection with abusive clergy. Some stated that abuse itself had prompted them to stop practising whilst others mentioned the church’s response to abuse (e.g. ‘To find that in the house of God you were housing and protecting individuals that hurt and destroyed the innocent is appalling’). Seven expressed negative feelings about communication with priests; four found their priest’s religious or political views uncomfortable and three perceived priests as overly concerned with money. Perceptions of priests also had a positive effect; one respondent stated a reason for returning to the church (‘Inspired by father xxx’s work with the homeless’) and another described leaving, and returning to the church through perceptions of individual priests:
I had stopped because of an over zealous priest who was heavily into Latin Mass and his harsh, unyielding attitude to God and his view of appropriate witness turned me away. Then I met a wonderful priest who opened the door to light and tolerance and really showed the true Love of God and now I have returned to practising my faith and am proud to be a Catholic.
Ten respondents expressed negative perceptions of church leaders (as distinct from ‘priests’); six specified ‘bishop’ or ‘diocese’. 19 respondents had personal issues with attending church. Six had health problems, and/or fear of catching Covid-19; four had disabilities which made attendance problematic and others cited barriers of pregnancy, bereavement and other life issues. 14 respondents cited aspects of church doctrine as reasons for their leaving the church. Five cited their divorces, including one who had not divorced but who had married a divorced man. Four stated that their views were not in line with church teaching generally; others specified feeling excluded because of being gay, using IVF or using contraception. Eleven respondents expressed negative experience of attending Mass and nine stated that they practiced their spirituality in places other than their parish church, including other denominations, reading the bible and attending the Society of St. Pius X.
Participants were asked, ‘What do you think would help you and your family to develop your faith further?’ Of the given options, the homily at mass was by far the most frequently selected, followed by small group discussions and bible studies:
294 respondents gave written answers to this question (18% skipped the question). Of these, 55 provided negative comments about the clergy and/or the position of the Church on particular areas of teaching. For example, Our PP is a good man but not suitable to be a PP. He would be better in a religious community where he did not have to visit the sick/dying, remember peoples’ names, be open to answering questions and generally communicate with people.
27 respondents mentioned the weekly Homily. Most of those who mentioned the subject of the homily wanted homilies to link the readings of the day with their lives (‘Our priest [Name] has a great gift for delivering beautiful sermons which relate to the Gospel reading and to our lives today’). One placed the focus elsewhere: We need strong sermons again about e.g. the Four Last Things, Benediction, Gregorian Chant, Fatima … the Anti Christ, How Jesus established here on Earth only one Church, the Catholic Church. Seven wanted short homilies (‘Homilies need to be sharper and shorter!’) although one wanted longer ones (‘A 7 minute homily is not sufficient to dig deeper’). Three wanted greater variety. This statement explained the importance of the weekly homily: I think the homily is so important as, for many busy families, it is the only chance for them to stop for ten minutes and receive some sort of formation.
25 people suggested various faith-oriented activities (e.g. ‘There are so many ways children [and] teens could be supported in our parish! Youth groups, visitors giving talks, worship events’). Many of the additional comments supported the earlier statistics. 18 people requested some form of direct teaching, and a further 18 wanted opportunities for pilgrimage and retreats. 16 people asked for group discussions including opportunities for speakers to deliver talks on aspects about the faith, whilst a further 16 people asked for the development of other group opportunities like Alpha. 13 saw an opportunity for faith development through attention to detail in the liturgy and through the sacraments (‘Being allowed to attend a QUIET and meaningful Mass and given time to think and reflect’) and 12 asked for more social events.
Other responses included comments about welcoming communities (12), Resources (11), the importance of prayer (10), focus on scripture (9), the need for mission-based activity (8), mixed marriage support (8), the importance of personal witness (6), Spiritual Direction (4), events, combining aspects both social and religious (4), support for the isolated (4), interfaith dialogue (3), a need for better buildings and facilities (2), new ministries (2) and processions (1). Finally, eight respondents felt that they had a self- blockage to developing their own faith and a further seven thought that there were already sufficient opportunities.