Tuesday, August 09, 2022

The Vatican's Astroturfing Survey

The Vatican's Department of Communications released a survey ahead of the Synod of Bishops. They are ostensibly interested in gathering feedback about the Church from a wide variety of persons who may or may not be practicing Catholics. The survey questions revolve around people's perceptions about the Church. The survey was (apparently) not made broadly available to the public; instead, it was disseminated to certain influencers who were then asked to distribute it amongst their social media followers. I found the survey through Jimmy Akin's blog.

The questions on the survey could be textbook examples of astroturfing, the manipulation of public feedback in a predetermined direction to give the false appearance of broad public support. This can be seen in the way the questions are framed. 

Question 4 asks us to consider why we think people leave the Church. We must choose from up to three of the following answers:

One will notice that there is no option to select anything relating to disappointment in the leadership of the Church—the way the popes and bishops have governed the household of faith. We may only find fault with the hierarchy in so far as it pertains to scandals, but not because we disagree with the fundamental direction they are steering the Church. 

You can also see that whoever wrote this thinks the Church's problem is that it needs to get with times, socially, liturgically, and doctrinally. Some of these answers do in fact apply to me, but if I were to choose them, I know how they would be interpreted. I do find most Novus Ordo Masses to be boring. But if I were to select "boring masses and ceremonies," they would interpret this to mean the NO requires even more innovation to make it more "exciting." I do feel the Church is unresponsive to my concerns as a traditional Catholic; but if I select "unresponsive to people's concerns and priorities," they will take it to mean I want more of Francis's theology of accompaniment. I do believe the Church is out of touch with the current concerns of young Catholics, who by and large look for a more traditional experience. But if I choose "Church is out of touch with current concerns," it will be interpreted as a mandate for greater modernization. These questions are phrased in such a way that they can be made to serve whatever agenda the Vatican chooses.

As an aside, the reasons people leave the Church are not mysterious. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University has done plenty of research on this. I do not have the data in front of me, but I have been doing research for an upcoming book on the relationship between the Church and science utilizing CARA's research, and CARA's research suggests that the fundamental reason young people leave the Church is because they perceive the Church's worldview to be incompatible with modern science. This isn't an option either. 

The survey goes on to ask us if we think the Church is in dialogue enough with other groups. I think the survey creators were expecting people respond that the Church does not dialogue enough; I responded that the Church seems to be in dialogue "a lot." Of course, if offers no option for me to state whether I think this is a good or bad thing.

Question 6 on what attributes one associates with the Church is a joke. Here's our options:

There really is no way to answer this one. We are given 8 possible answers, 4 negative and 4 positive. Positive answers such as "innovative" and "supportive" will be construed as evidence of success of the Bergoglian innovations; negative answers will be construed as argument for the necessity of more such innovations to be foisted upon us from the God of Surprises.

Question 8 asks us what we think the Church needs to prioritize going forward. The choices are disappointing:

The first three options are at least objective goods, but the rest demonstrate the Church's profoundly anthropocentric view of its role in the world. Appallingly absent from this list is any reference to the missions, or to evangelization in general. And of course, nothing about liturgical formation, reverence, etc. 

Question 9 gives us our only chance in the entire survey to give original feedback:

No comment here, except this is your place to let em have it.

Question 11 is a very awkward question that has to do with the Church's commitment to "listening." It asks us how the Church can best become a listening entity:

This question struck me as more pathetic than anything else; it reminded of a teenage poser desperately trying to fit in by wearing the right band shirt—it doesn't matter what band shirt, so long as it is the right one. The Vatican has decided that "listening" is the way forward, but it has no idea to whom or to what it ought to be listening, and so it is desperately flailing about, looking for whatever method of listening will provide it with the best optics. If they were serious about listening, they should meditate on Mark 9:7.

The survey is a joke. They already have an agenda they intend to ram through, and when they do, they intend to frame it as the will of the people. The responses to the survey don't actually matter; they have structured it in such a way that the data can be manipulated to create momentum towards whatever agenda they wish.

If you want take the survey, visit the survey link here.


Crookston Citizen said...

I, too, took this survey and was equally unimpressed. They *clearly* know which direction they want to steer the ship: it’s just that this time (unlike the TC bishop’s survey) they’re not taking any chances. Much easier to fib when the “data” says what you want it to say.

It’s like the alleged Schillebeeckx quote which describes our modern age: “We have used ambiguous terms during the Council (insert ‘survey’) and we know how we shall interpret them afterwards.”

Anonymous said...

"Shaping opinion". Surveys and polls are, for the most part, highly suspect.