Many U.S. Catholics have independent streak – survey
A majority of American Roman Catholics feel strongly about the sacraments and traditional church values such as caring for the poor, but they may not agree with the church teachings on topics such as abortion, same-sex marriage and maintaining a celibate, male clergy, a survey has found.
The “Catholics in America” survey of Roman Catholics published by the National Catholic Reporter found 86 percent said Catholics can disagree with aspects of church teaching and still remain loyal to the church.
“Stated in simplest terms, Catholics in the past 25 years have become more autonomous when making decisions about important moral issues; less reliant on official teaching in reaching those decisions; and less deferential to the authority of the Vatican and individual bishops,” according to the study led by William D’Antonio, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America.
The weeklong survey was conducted online with a representative sample of 1,442 Catholic adults beginning on April 24 (Easter Sunday), and had a 3.5 percentage point margin of error.
“It is noteworthy that helping the poor is almost as core to Catholics’ identity as their belief in Jesus’ resurrection, with 67 percent rating this dimension of Catholicism as very important,” the survey said.
Seventy-three percent said belief in Jesus’ resurrection was very important to them personally.
By contrast, 40 percent said the church’s teachings opposing abortion are very important to them, and even fewer said church teachings opposing same-sex marriage and the death penalty were very important to them.
Large majorities said that a person can be a good Catholic without going to church every Sunday, without obeying the church hierarchy’s teaching on birth control, without their marriage being approved by the church, and without obeying the church hierarchy’s teaching on divorce and remarriage.
The survey found a high level of commitment to the church among 19 percent of Catholics, many of them older, down from 27 percent 25 years ago. Another 66 percent said they were “moderately” committed.
Photo: People attend the funeral mass for Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic at St. Michael’s Catholic Cathedral (STRINGER/Aug 31 2011)
Catholics, the largest U.S. denomination, make up a stable 24 percent of the American population thanks to an influx of Hispanic immigrants.
In 1987, when the first such survey was conducted, 86 percent of American Catholics were white and 10 percent Hispanic. Hispanics now make up one-third and their numbers are expected to grow. Blacks, Asians and others make up 5 percent.
In 1987, 62 percent of Catholics were married; in 2011 54 percent were married with another 10 percent living with a partner.
On the issue of maintaining a male, celibate clergy in light of a priest shortage, 46 percent said it was not important at all, while 21 percent said it was very important. And 62 percent indicated support for women in the role of priests.
Many expressed doubts about the credibility of the church hierarchy’s handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and 7 percent said they personally know of someone who was abused by a priest and 12 percent know a priest accused of abuse.