Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wanted: A More Liberal Pontiff

North American Catholics continue to be out of step with the teachings of their Church and as the mainstream media takes their pulse in anticipation of the papal election, we find the moral disconnect still in effect and extending to structural concerns.

The Surveys:


The Church teaches that abortion should not be resorted to under any circumstance. The NYT/CBS poll found that only 23% of Catholics were completely opposed to abortion. Thirty-six percent of Catholics said it should be generally available under all circumstances (42% of all survey participants) and 38% said it should be available but with stricter limits than now. In spite of this, they still expect the Church to oppose all abortion. Asked whether the pope should be for or against legalized abortion, 56% said "against". (NYT/CBS)

Death Penalty

The Church generally opposes the death penalty but 61% of Catholics are in favor of it, only slightly lower than 64% for Americans in general.(NYT/CBS)

Same-sex Marriage

In recent years, the institutional Catholic Church has been campaigning intensively against the right of homosexuals to marry. The lesson apparently hasn't been absorbed by the faithful, 62% of whom support same-sex marriage. Ironically, this is even slightly higher than Americans in general, of whom only 53% think same-sex marriage should be legal. (NYT/CBS)

54% Catholics support same-sex marriage. (Quinnipiac)

Birth Control

The Church teaches that artificial contraception is contrary to Catholic morality but 79% of Catholics surveyed favored the use of artificial methods of birth control (NYT/CBS). This is the one issue where Catholics want the next pope to come around to their point of view. Seventy-one percent of those in the NYT/CBS poll and 64% of those in the Quinnipiac one said the next pope should be in favor of artificial birth control.

Papal Infallibility

Respondents split on the question of papal infallibility. Only 40% agreed with this teaching, while 46% did not view the pope as infallible on matters of moral and faith. Seventy-eight percent of Catholics surveyed said that on difficult moral questions, they are more inclined to follow their own consciences than the teachings of the pope. Eighty-three percent opined that it was possible to disagree with Church teaching on issues such as birth control and divorce and still be a good Catholic. (NYT/CBS)


Catholics no longer believe unconditionally in transubstantiation (that the bread and wine are literally changed during the Eucharist into the Body and Blood of Jesus). Forty percent of those surveyed expressed a belief in transubstantiation but 58% said the bread and wine are just symbolic reminders, not the literal Body and Blood. (NYT/CBS)

Married Priests

Sixty-six percent of Catholics surveyed thought priests should be allowed to marry. (NYT/CBS). In the Quinnipiac poll, the percent in favor of married priests was only slightly lower, at 62%. The Washington Post/ABC poll found 55% of Catholics opposing the ban on married priests. The Angus Reid poll found that 71% of Canadian Catholics and 55% of American ones would like to see the next pope allow priests to get married.

Women Priests

Sixty-six percent of Catholics surveyed (NYT/CBS) thought women should be allowed to be priests. In the Quinnipiac poll, the percent in favor of women priests was only slightly lower, at 62%. The Washington Post/ABC poll found 58% of Catholics opposing the prohibition on female priests. The Angus Reid poll found that 62% of Canadian and 52% of American Catholics think the next pope should allow women to be ordained.

No.1 Issue in the North American Catholic Church: Sex Abuse

In the NYT/CBS poll, sex abuse by priests and its cover-up remains the most important issue for the Church today according to Catholics. No other issue even came in a close second. In the Washington Post/ABC poll, 78% of Catholics disapproved of the Church's response to the sex abuse crisis. This echoes the findings of a February 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center in which a third of the respondents identified this issue as the number one concern.

Wanted: A More Liberal Pontiff

Not surprisingly, more than half of those surveyed said they feel the Church is out of touch with the needs of Catholics today. (53% - NYT/CBS; 52% - Quinnipiac). In the Washington Post/ABC poll, six in 10 Catholics characterized the church as not in sync with their attitudes and lifestyles. Most North American Catholics surveyed want the new pope to be more liberal. According to the Angus Reid poll, Catholics who attend church less often than once a week would like to see the new pontiff take a more liberal approach to issues like contraception and birth control (CAN 77%, USA 59%), divorce (CAN 59%, USA 47%), and same-sex relations (CAN 56%, USA 40%). Canadian and American Catholics who attend Church at least once a week are roughly on the same page on contraception (CAN 57%, USA 43%) and divorce (CAN 43%, USA 35%), but considerably fewer would endorse a more liberal approach on same-sex relations (CAN 34%, USA 24%). While Angus Reid made an effort to survey an equal number of weekly Mass attenders and Catholics who don't go to church as frequently, it's important to put this in the context that only about a quarter of American Catholics admit to attending Mass regularly. Thus the views of those who attend church less frequently are probably more representative of the average Catholic perspective.

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