A sign on the door of St. Mary of Mercy Parish, adjacent to offices of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, says "We are Family. Welcome Home."
But what exactly is a family these days and what is the best way to welcome them?
Through a questionnaire the diocese posted online Thursday, those inside and outside the Catholic faith will be able to give their opinions on church teachings on marriage, divorce, same-sex couples and contraception, with results being forwarded to the Vatican in advance of a major meeting late next year.
Pope Francis called for the meeting, or synod, early last month and asked for input from dioceses and bishop's organizations worldwide on the issues. It is a remarkably grass-roots effort for the Catholic church -- which usually relies on opinions from church officials and theologians when preparing for the Vatican sessions -- and the Diocese of Pittsburgh appears to be taking the effort a step further.
It has taken a questionnaire distributed by the Vatican, simplified it somewhat, and is allowing non-Catholics to answer if they wish. It is currently posted on the diocesan website -- www.diopitt.org -- and copies will be distributed in Nov. 29 editions of The Pittsburgh Catholic.
"The questionnaire is not a poll or a survey on Church teaching," Bishop David Zubik wrote in a letter to all local church members.
"Instead, it is a unique opportunity for the faithful of the Church of Pittsburgh to respond thoughtfully and prayerfully to the issues confronting family life and marriage in our times."
The 14-section questionnaire asks how effectively church teachings on family matters and "natural law" are communicated; how common it is for couples to live together without being married; how to address those who are divorced and not receiving sacraments, and how their children are affected; if church teachings on contraception, including calendar-based methods for avoiding pregnancy, are understood and followed; and other ways to improve church teachings on the family.
The diocese's multipart question on same-sex marriage is: "Do you have a clear understanding on the Church's teaching about same sex unions? How does that affect your attitude toward government policies which promote same sex unions?
"How does that affect your attitude toward individuals in same sex unions? What pastoral attention should be extended to people in same sex unions and to the adopted children of these unions, especially with regard to passing on the faith?"
The deadline submit responses is Dec. 6.
The Pittsburgh diocese will send a summary of responses to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which then has only until the end of December to synthesize them and forward their own summary to the Vatican.
Similar bishops' conferences internationally will issue similar summaries, which starting in February will be used by a synod council to write a working paper that will be advanced to the Pope.
The Vatican meeting on "Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization" is set for Oct. 5-19 next year, with representation of at least one bishop from every nation where the Catholic Church is represented.
Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581.