Monday, February 10, 2014

The Catholic "Moral Disconnect": Univision survey finds it alive and well...and global

Another survey (raw data spreadsheet available here), this time by Spanish language media giant Univision, shows that the moral disconnect between Catholics and their Church is not confined to the United States. Last week, Univision polled over 12,000 Catholics in 12 different countries about some of the most controversial issues facing the Church today. The countries included the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and the Philippines.

While Pope Francis received an almost universal glowing endorsement from his global flock, with 87% rating his performance as good or excellent, the magisterium of the Church he heads up received substantially less unanimous support. Catholics, especially in Europe and the Americas, simply no longer believe many of the traditional teachings of the Church on many issues of sexual morality. There is more support in Africa and in the one Asian country surveyed. Eventually, the pope will receive all the results from the Vatican's own survey on these issues administered through the dioceses but meanwhile, here is what Univision discovered:

Women Priests

This survey found that only 45% of Catholics support women priests worldwide. This number is driven down by the overwhelming opposition from the African countries surveyed, 80% of whom opposed women priests. In this context, it's important to remember that Africa is also leading the opposition to women priests and bishops in the Anglican Church. In Europe and the United States, women priests are supported by a healthy margin -- 64% of Europeans and 59% of Americans in favor. Latin Americans are almost evenly split -- 49% in favor, 47% opposed -- and there are huge country differences within the region. Sixty percent of Argentine Catholics and 54% of Brazilians support women priests. The numbers are lower for Colombia and considerably lower for Mexico. Looking at this data, perhaps the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which has been developing women priest and deacon candidates in Colombia, should consider expanding their efforts to Argentina as well (or instead). An interesting side note derived from the raw data is that women were slightly (a couple of percentage points) less receptive to women priests than men in every country except in the two African countries where they were slightly less opposed than men.

Married Priests

Slightly more Catholics favor allowing priests to marry (50%) and, again, there are huge regional differences. European Catholics overwhelmingly support married priests (70%). Sixty-one percent of Americans and 53% of Latin Americans favor this. The numbers are offset by Catholics in the African countries and the Philippines who overwhelmingly (70% and 76%) oppose this. All the European countries are very strongly behind this. Within the Latin American bloc, Catholics in the three South American countries favor married priests while Mexican Catholics are opposed. Those countries most in favor are also countries with well-established married priests advocacy groups -- United States (Corpus, Celibacy Is the Issue), France (Plein Jour), Brazil (Associação Rumos, Movimento dos Padres Casados), Spain (MOCEOP), Italy (Vocatio, Sacerdoti Lavoratori Sposati), Poland (Stowarzyszenie Zonatych Ksiezy I Ich Rodzin), Argentina (Movimiento de Padres Casados y sus familias).


Of the sexual morality issues, the one on which there is the most consensus is contraception. Based on the results of this survey -- and many others over the years -- if Pope Francis wants to make one major reform in this area, it should be to eliminate the Catholic Church's prohibition on birth control. The Church's arguments against artificial contraception make no sense to Catholic men and women of today and, therefore, few Catholic couples comply with the restrictions. Seventy-eight percent of Catholics surveyed by Univision support the use of contraception (79% in the United States). Only in the African countries were a slim majority opposed, and that opposition is more likely due to a general cultural preference for fertility and opposition to limiting births, than to any specific endorsement of Catholic teachings in this area.


Again, based on this survey, it would appear that a Catholic consensus position is developing which, while acknowledging the value of protecting the life of the unborn under most circumstances, wants to give equal or greater moral weight to protecting the life of the mother in situations where these two values are brought into conflict. Catholics are not interested in saving a fetus at the expense of its mother. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics surveyed said that abortion should be "allowed in some cases, for example when the life of the mother is in danger." A further nine percent said it should be universally allowed and only 33% said it should not be allowed at all. Complete opposition to abortion was lowest in France (5%) and Spain (8%). Opposition was greatest in the Philippines (73%). Despite the US bishops' conservative stance and emphasis on life issues, only 21% of Americans said abortion should not be allowed at all.

Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics

Survey respondents were asked if they supported or opposed the Church's policy that "an individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion." Fifty-eight percent of Catholics disagreed with this policy. Again, only in the African countries did the vast majority of Catholics agree with Church teaching in this area. Most Americans (59%), Latin Americans (67%), and Europeans (75%) disagreed. The question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics has been a key issue for the European church reform groups like We Are Church, as well as for the various priests' associations in those countries.

Gay marriage

This question was asked in two parts -- the first aimed at determining support for gay marriage in general, the second about support for same-sex sacramental marriages to be performed in the Catholic Church in particular. In no country was there majority support for same-sex sacramental marriage. The only country that showed any significant support for this was Spain where 43% of Catholics thought the Church should perform same-sex marriages (35% of American Catholics supported this position, a surprisingly high number given how actively the US bishops have been campaigning against any form of same-sex marriage, let alone ecclesial recognition of those unions). Civil gay marriage was supported by a majority of Catholics in the United States (54%) and Spain (64%). Other countries that showed strong, but not majority, support for same-sex marriage were Brazil (45%), Argentina (46%), and France (43%). All of these countries recognize same-sex marriage nationwide or, in the case of the United States, in an increasing number of jurisdictions. Catholics in these countries have learned that they can live with this.

While this is still not the official Church survey on these questions, it provides a statistically useful benchmark for comparison once the official results are released -- if they are released. We would not expect the official survey results to be too far from these figures.

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