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November 29, 2010

When WCR readers sat down to complete our current readership survey — which they are doing in quite large numbers — they no doubt were thinking only of what their responses mean for the newspaper. Yet their answers to some questions might also reflect what they would like to see as pastoral priorities of the local Church.

One question in the online survey, for example, asks quite directly what readers see as the most important challenge facing the Church today. But the implications for pastoral planning go beyond such direct questions.

When, in response to another question, some readers say they would like the WCR to reach out to youth and young adults, their priority implicates more than the newspaper. Newspapers of all types have long had great difficulty in appealing to potential readers younger than 35. In an increasingly digitalized media world, it is even less likely that print media will find a home in this age cohort.

That, however, does not mean nothing can and should be done. Quite the opposite. Religious media will more and more need to find ways to preach the Gospel via non-traditional forms.

But readers, when indicating their priority for media aimed at young Catholics, also make a statement about what the local Church's priorities ought to be. Several questions in the WCR survey might be interpreted in a similar light.

Indeed, the current survey is the first opportunity for the mass of ordinary Catholics to express some of their views about the local Church's pastoral priorities in quite some time. This survey could be a prelude to further surveys aimed directly at assessing the potential for evangelization in 21st century Alberta. Parishes also might well benefit by asking parishioners for their anonymous detailed assessment of the state of parish life.

Often, such surveys, especially when they have not been carried out in a long time, unveil cracks in the system that surprise those in positions of authority. That is exactly why openness is necessary.

One great virtue of the Second Vatican Council was that it developed communion by overcoming the isolation of different elements of the Church. The catastrophe of clergy sexual abuse was another sign of the need for openness and transparency. Openness and effective self-criticism are not virtues you can roll out every 10 or 50 years before stuffing them back in the closet. They need to be a permanent feature of every Church institution.

You can have letters to the editor or letters to the pastor, but the content of such "letters" may be random or idiosyncratic. Every so often, the vast bulk of the faithful need to be consulted. Once they are consulted, their views ought to be taken seriously and change — if change is what is being called for — should be implemented.