Pew Survey: Catholics Want the Next Pope to Maintain Traditional Teachings

Despite claims to the contrary by the chattering class, practicing Catholics like their pope and want the Church to stay the course on its moral teachings.

I’m glad to hear this. I was beginning to wonder if I attended mass in churches that were somehow “different” from other Catholic parishes. The foment for gay marriage, contraception, abortion on demand is nowhere to be found where I worship. I’ve attended mass in Catholic Churches all over this country and I have yet to find a parish that was any different about these things from those that I see here in Oklahoma.

They all have their “respect life” signs and programs for the unborn. There are the usual Altar Guild bake sales, announcements about raising money for this or that family in distress and I swear in each parish, the same rock-ribbed little old lady with a dangerous-looking cane who sits in “her” seat and will not budge for errant newcomers who want to slide past her.

I’ve never seen anything but respect for the Eucharist. There is nary a sign in any of them of all this dissent I keep hearing about. I was beginning to think that I must be lucky in my choices of churches when I travel or that maybe the stories I was hearing were greatly exaggerated.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Foundation, it was the latter.

Seventy-four percent of Catholics approve of Pope Benedict.Sixty-three percent of Catholics who attend mass each week said that the next Pope should maintain traditional Catholic teaching. Less than 10% called for the Church to accept same-sex marriage, women priests or contraception.

What I think that means is that the authors of these stories about “dissent” in the Church are basing their claims on surveys which include Catholics who don’t go to mass and are not practicing Catholics at all.

I have a relative who says that she is a member of the Disciples of Christ church. She does not attend church, ever. When someone dies, that’s where she has the funeral. When her son got married, that’s where they had the wedding. This is the extent of her activity in the Disciples of Christ church. But if you polled her on a survey she would tell you that she was a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination. I think those are the kind of “Catholics” who pollsters quiz to get these dodgy numbers that the pundits like to quote.

If they talk to people who actually participate in the life of the Church, the numbers become something that those of us who also attend mass and interact with practicing Catholics can validate from our own experiences.

I recognize the attitudes expressed in a poll that shows that the vast majority of Catholics support the pope and traditional Catholic teachings. Those attitudes are the ones I see at mass every weekend in whatever parish I happen to be. The other numbers that the Catholic bashers like to bandy about don’t gibe with my experience as a practicing Catholic at all.

I think that people who take such pleasure in reporting the impending demise of the Catholic Church are expressing their own wishful thinking. These people don’t like the Church precisely because of its stubborn refusal to change 2,000 years of Christian teaching to suit them and their wishes.

They defame the Church and natter on about its failings because they are trying to create a phony moral high ground for themselves from which to assail the Church and bully it into silence. These constant claims of a Church whose followers do not believe in it and who are about to abandon it are what they wish would happen.

The Catholic Church is the repository of faith. These teachings it won’t bend are its charge. It offers each of us a simple, followable roadmap to heaven. The Catholic Church is not made up of perfect people. All of us, both those who wear collars and those who sit in the pews, are fallible, fallen human beings living out our lives in a fallen world. We can and we do sin.

The teachings of our Church — the ones that cause such anger and wrath on the part of the Church’s critics — are how we know the finer points of right and wrong. The Church guides us in how to discern right and wrong, and then, when we are ready to turn things around and try again, it gives us the remedy of forgiveness and reorientation through the sacrament of confession.

I am gratified to see this Pew survey. But I’m not surprised. It simply verifies what I’ve been seeing at mass every weekend for years.

The CNA article describing this Pew Foundation survey says in part:

Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2013 / 02:05 am (CNA).- As the Feb. 28 resignation of Pope Benedict XVI approaches, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of the pontiff, and the majority support traditional Catholic teaching as well.

According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 74 percent of U.S. Catholics “express a favorable view of the pope.”

Pope Benedict has been regarded favorably throughout his entire papacy, with approval ratings among U.S. Catholics ranging from 67-83 percent.

Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also enjoyed a high favorability rating over the course of his papacy. The Pew Forum’s polling in the 1980s and 1990s found that more than 90 percent of Americans had a positive opinion of Pope John Paul II.

Weekly Mass attendees were most likely to favor tradition, with 63 percent saying the next Pope should maintain traditional teaching.

Those Catholics who favored taking the Church in a new direction could give pollsters an open-ended response as to where they would like to see change. Nineteen percent said the Church should “become more modern,” while 15 percent wanted a tougher stance on sex abuse.

Fewer than 10 percent called for the Church to accept same-sex “marriage,” women priests or contraception. (Read the rest here.)

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  • Peg

    Oh Bravo Rebecca–excellent post and so true!

    I have seen great pain and spiritual darkness from a few who go but want to remake the church as you say. Most come from the left. On the right might be so much rigidity they can’t be pastoral.

    I know that old lady but also lots of old ladies who are the bedrocks- always showing up for adoration and daily mass and welcoming new members.

    It should also be noted the Church does not consider a homosexual orientation a sin-just homosexual acts. The highest and truest calling for gay or straight outside of sacramental marriage is celibacy. We have several gay Catholics who live and worship this way and use social media to write about their profound experiences in fidelity to Christ and church.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you for this additional information Peg.

  • Dave

    Yeah, most of the malcontents are, at best, Christmas and Easter Catholics who think, “I’d go back to Church more if only it would change to agree with ME.”

    Of course, G.K. Chesterton hit the nail on the head when he said, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong.”

  • abb3w

    Full details from Pew Research, along with more background from same.

    • abb3w

      Looking closely, “Less than 10% called for the Church to accept same-sex marriage, women priests or contraception” is technically accurate, but misleading about overall attitudes within the church. The key words are called for. That is, of those (46% of N=304 self-identified Catholics) who said the next pope should “move the church in new directions”, when asked “And, just in your view, what new directions would you like to see the Catholic Church move in?” as an open-ended question, explicitly volunteered the change among their responses. So, for example, while only 14% of the 46% specifically called for allowing priests to marry, 58% of (American) Catholics say they think that it would be a good thing. Support is stronger among those reporting attending less than weekly (66%), but still a plurality (46% pro, 43% con) among those attending weekly or more.

      While it’s true the dissent is far more common among those who attend rarely, even the regularly attending Catholics are hardly in utter concord.

      • Rebecca Hamilton

        I read and like your blog, btw, even though I often disagree with it. I’m right in the middle of legislative session and don’t have time to wrestle with this. Let’s see if someone else can take it on.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          This is not the report I was talking about in my post, but another one you dug up. I made a mistake by assuming that you had simply referenced a more detailed version of the original post. Here is the post that I was referring to. It is titled: Poll Finds Strong Approval for Pope, Catholic Tradition.

          • Dale

            Rebecca, the CNA article you cited was simply reporting on the source to which Abb3w provided a direct link. I think Abb3w’s comments offer us some legitimate caution.

      • Fabio P.Barbieri

        That is a misleading “example”. Most educated Catholics know that clerical celibacy is not a matter of dogma, but of discipline, and can be softened or altered according to the decision of the authorities. You should tell us whether there is any significant minority in favour of divorce, abortion, “gay marriage” or any of the other causes du jour. I don’t believe there are.

        • abb3w

          Yes, there is a difference between dogma and discipline. However, this example does illustrate that the percentage from volunteered responses from an open-ended question appears to tend substantially lower than the percentage expressing support when specifically asked a closed form question.

          The Pew Report does not include closed-form questions on gay marriage, women in the priesthood, contraception, or abortion; they may not have asked those this survey. However, there are other surveys, which can shed some light; in particular, the US General Social Survey has asked some questions on abortion and gay marriage, as recently as 2010. (The 2012 data has not yet been released to the public.) Among US respondents, self-identifying as Catholics, attending at least weekly (approximately one-third of the Catholics), circa a quarter agree or strongly agree that “Homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another” (versus circa half disagree/strong disagree). For self-identified catholics of all attendance rates, it’s about half agree, a third disagree; the agree numbers roughly line up with those from Gallup’s 2012 poll.

          Of course, thinking the law should change and thinking the Church should change are two different things; and self-reported attendance rates are generally higher than actual attendance rates. Still, while this is not proof, it is suggestive that among US Catholics, supporters of gay marriage are a minority roughly as numerically “significant” as Hispanics (who are circa a third overall, a quarter among weekly-plus attending).

          If you’re curious about the details on abortion, there’s a handy on-line tool for playing with the GSS data. Short of it: while there’s again a minority in favor of keeping it legal, it’s a lot smaller than those supporting gay marriage.

          The GSS doesn’t cover ordination of women. However, there’s a NYTimes/CBS poll from 2010 saying 59% of Catholics overall support it, and that it’s also a majority even among weekly attendees.

          tl;dr — Your (dis)belief does not appear well-supported by available empirical data.

          • Rebecca Hamilton

            I think also that if a quarter of the people think one way and (not considering the undecideds, since you didn’t mention them) then probably close to 75% think the other way. That’s a pretty high level of agreement in any group. Again, as someone who has held office for many years, I can tell you that it is an unusually high level of agreement, at least in my experience.

            The point here is that Catholics who actually practice their faith tend to follow Church teaching in much higher percentages than those who merely say they are Catholic (for whatever reason.) and that ignoring this distinction on the part of pollsters gives us inaccurate and virtually worthless poll results.

            Also, the way a question is asked always influences the answer. This is not exclusive to professional pollsters, but it certainly has been used to deliberately produce inaccurate poll results. The reason people do this is that politicians (who are the policy makers in our country) far too often follow polls instead of thinking things through when the decide which policy to support. This tends to give us weathervane policy making which often produces destructive results for our whole country.

            • Dale

              Rebecca, I agree with you that Catholics who actually practice their faith tend to follow Church teaching more closely than those persons who identify as Catholic yet rarely take the sacraments.

              One of the nice features of the Pew Forum surveys is that they do allow us to look at the difference in attitudes of Catholics who attend Mass weekly, versus the attitudes of Catholics who do not. The difference in results is often remarkable.

      • K C Thomas

        I am at a loss to understand those who want changes. Have they got faith in Jesus and his teachings OR on decisions based on the majority votes ? The Church is not a political organization or a democratic state. The Church does not stand in the way of leaving the Church by the dissenters

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I included a link to this survey when I posted this, but for those who want it, here it is again.

    • midwestlady

      abb3w, these big polls are exactly the kinds of polls that include respondents who self-describe as Catholic but may not go to mass weekly or practice their faith on a regular basis. The value of the results should always be evaluated with that in mind.
      So, for instance if a poll like this says that 10% of the country is ex-catholic, it can probably be believed because they’re polling everyone to find out what the religious history of everyone is; if it asks why ex-Catholics left, it’s probably pretty accurate when it’s polling ex-Catholics. But if it asks “self-identified Catholics” whether they believe in birth control, for instance, it’s probably not very valid because many of the respondents who self-describe themselves as Catholic may not in fact be “church-going” Catholics like Rebecca’s Disciples of Christ relative.

      • abb3w

        I’d more precisely say, while the results are valid for “Catholics” overall, the percentages do not correspond to the percentages among those who identify more strongly and who attend more regularly. Clearly, which segment is of interest depends on the sort of interest one has.

        It also works the other way: attitudes among the 5% of the US who self-identify as strongly religious weekly church-going Catholics tend to not accurately represent the attitudes of the 25% of the US who identify as Catholic. That’s relatively unimportant when discussing the direction of the Catholic Church (which isn’t a democracy), but somewhat more important when discussing political positions of “Catholic” voters.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Actually, I think it’s kind of meaningless all around because the sample they are studying is invalid. As for predicting what “Catholic” voters might do, I’ve found, after 17 years in public office, that they tend to vote, like most people, for the person. However, when issues are taken as themselves without a personality attached as with a referendum of some sort, you see a huge divergence between people who are practicing Catholics and people who are Catholic in the same way that my relative is a member of the Disciples of Christ church. I can tell you for a fact that this relative is not only not influenced by whatever it is the Disciples of christ teach, she doesn’t know what they teach. I think it is the same for these faux Catholics that are being used to skew poll results. All they know of Church teaching is what they read in the Catholic-bashing press.

          • abb3w

            You seem to be using “invalid” in an informal sense, rather than in the statistical sense. It would be more formally accurate to say “it’s kind of meaningless all around because the sample they are studying is not from the population of interest”. Statistically, it’s a valid sample of Americans who self-identify as Catholic; however, that’s not of the group you find of interest — EG, self-identified Catholics who attend regularly and consider themselves strongly religious. (Of course, when it comes to the future direction of the Church, the only population that matters is “the next Pope”.)

            You’re likely correct about the knowledgeability of the inattentive Catholics, though. The GSS indicates those who attend only up to a couple times a year tend to be less likely to have graduated college than those who attend regularly, and a Pew Research study showed religious knowledge (even of the basics of one’s own faith) tends to be correlated to overall education.

            • Rebecca Hamilton

              My understanding statistics comes entirely from one undergraduate course in statistics that I took years ago. I understand the quibble you are quibbling about terminology, but I still think the studies are invalid as to the purpose to which the data is being used, which is to quantify the adherence and support of “Catholics” to Catholic teaching. The invalidity (at least so far as I’m concerned lies in the definition of “Catholic” which the pollers use, which, in turn leads to a sample that is not representative of the group.

              You can go back and say that, yes, it is valid, simply because it applies to those who self-identify as Catholic, regardless of whether or not the practice the faith or even have been baptized in the Church. But that leads us to a pointless circular argument.

              Frankly, I think we’ve gone around enough times on this one.

              I do have a question, though. Why does it matter to you one way or the other whether Catholics adhere to their faith or not? The reason I’m asking is that I got a smattering of rather ugly comments on this post, all of which seemed appeared to come from people who did not self-identify as Catholic or even Christian but who, for some reason had some sort of emotional stake in this issue.

  • Jessica Hoff

    Yes, that’s just right, Rebecca – it is the cafeteria Catholics to whom the media speak, and because they share the same beliefs, the media thinks they are representative – they aren’t.

  • Oregon Catholic

    Amen, Rebecca. For me, the Church is the deposit of faith, tradition, and liturgy. The institutional ‘actors’ (I choose that intentionally) come and go and I put none on a pedestal. The Church survives in spite of the efforts of many of them. Although they can make me very exasperated and ashamed, I no longer let what they do or don’t do impact my Catholic belief or faith.

    So if someone polled me I would have to say I want the next pope to be traditional as well. I just hope he comes with a whip in his hand to drive the ‘money- changers’ out. If not, I will assume the Holy Spirit is choosing to cleanse the Church differently than I might hope and offer it up as my cross to bear.

    • Fabio P.Barbieri

      I would go beyond. I would say that the Church, as a whole, is responsible for practically every creative and valid feature of our civilization. Our great music, something that has no comparison in any other culture however great – think of how China and Japan have adopted it wholesale – was created in the cathedrals. So were our painting and our architecture. Universities are a Catholic institution. Mediaeval Catholic countries such as Italy and the Flanders codified the law of trade, the law of the sea, the law of international relationships. Venice invented modern diplomacy. The Catholic Cesare Baronio codified the rules of historical investigation, the Catholic Galileo Galilei those of scientific investigation, the Catholic Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra invented the novel, Catholics from Florence the opera. It never stops. Modern English verse was the one-man invention of the Jesuit, Gerald Manley Hopkins; fantasy fiction – although it had been written before him – triumphed through the work of the Catholic, JRR Tolkien. The Catholic Elgar was the first great English composer in two centuries, and his masterpiece was his setting of the poetic masterwork of the Catholic, John Henry Newman. The bulk of intellectual, moral, spiritual achievement in Western civilization bears the Catholic signature. If – per impossibile you were to destroy the Church, you would ruin the heart of your own life.

  • Manny

    The media distorts it all. Whether they realize it or not they are on a path to destroy the world as we knew it. They have bought into this relativism hook line and sinker, and they think we are a bunch of benighted simpletons. Thank God for Catholics and the Catholic Church. We are seeing the collapse of western civilization around us, and all that stands in the way is the Catholic Church. Unfortunately the other Christian denominations don’t have the structure and numbers to mount a strong enough stand. Bless you all religious and traditional Catholics. And other religiuos and traditional Christians too. You are just as needed in this fight.

    • Bill S

      “We are seeing the collapse of western civilization around us, and all that stands in the way is the Catholic Church.”

      If western civilization does collapse, it will be financial in nature. It has nothing to do with those issues about which the Catholic Church is so vocal. The whole economy of the U.S. and Europe is dependent on people spending money to purchase goods and services provided at home and not from China. If you listen to Pope Benedict, the collapse will come from abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage. Not so. As Bill Clinton once said: “It’s the economy, stupid”.

      • Theodore Seeber

        The fiscal sins of the right and the sexual sins of the left are both a part and parcel of the problem with the Western embrace of Moral Relativism. BOTH are intentionally destructive, for the service of what the Church has always called the Capital Sins.

        I see no reason to support an economy that is primarily based upon usury and murder.

      • midwestlady

        The economic disasters have everything to do with the demographic disasters. It’s not two separate phenomena. Pope Benedict is correct.

  • Theodore Seeber

    That is about the ratio I’ve seen. I go to one of the outlier parishes, which is why I’m promoting Knights of Columbus there (especially since, as it turns out, radical feminism and dissent on abortion and gay marriage is a great way to destroy the faith of men- with the Knights I’m surprising people by actually getting MEN to volunteer again in a parish where Father is the only male in the office- I’ve actually had a few return to the Mass because I’ve brought the Knights into the parish).

  • pagansister

    I would suspect that many of Cardinals were appointed by either Pope Paul II or Pope Benedict 16—so chances are the new guy will be just as conservative.

    • Fabio P.Barbieri

      That’s assuming that they always only nominated men in their own mold – but remember, JP II nominated Mahoney.

      • pagansister

        That was a big “oops” apparently, with all that has come out recently. As the saying goes” no one is perfect” even if it is Papal (is that the correct word?) appointments.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I’d be surprised if any of the Cardinals were appointed by Pope Paul II, whose reign was just before Christopher Columbus’s famous voyages. I think you mean Pope John Paul II; and given what happened in the early 1970s to the Church, I’d well hope so.

      • pagansister

        Yes, Theodore , I did mean Pope John Paul II. Thanks for catching that.

    • midwestlady

      I believe that all of the ones eligible to vote were named by either PJPII or PBXVI.

  • Fabio P.Barbieri

    I don’t know where to put this that is sufficiently visible, because I owe apologies to a few people and I would like them all to read it. It appears that I was 100% wrong about the existence of a report about widespread homosexual-led corruption in the Church. I was misled by two things: one, the involvement of a notorious lie factory, the Vaticanists of La Repubblica – I should have remembered that even a broken clock is right twice a day – and, two, the tone of apocalyptic conspiracy theory I found in its description. In fact, from what I hear from Life Site News, a better source than La Repubblica for this sort of thing, it is an account of a widespread pattern of corruption rather than any kind of conscious homosexual freemasonry; corruption, indeed, of a kind with which many of us are familiar, and which we encountered in “Farewell Good Men” and other paper and online publications. It remains that I have tackled in a pugnacious manner people who were correct about this fact where I was not. I admit that I was wrong, and if I have said anything offensive at the time, I withdraw it and apologize unreservedly.

    • pagansister

      No problem, Fabio. No offense taken—on anything you have said to me. Thanks for the “update”. :-)

  • Bill S

    You’re a stand-up guy Fabio. You haven’t said anything to me that either wasn’t true or was offensive.

  • Filipino Catholic

    Here in the Philippines, President Aquino has had a few, very public word wars with the bishops regarding certain issues, most recently a “reproductive health” (i.e. sex ed and free contraception) law that he aggressively pushed for and recently signed. Supporters of the bill keep saying that the average Filipino Catholic want it, the Church needs to change, the Church is out of date, blah blah blah, and recent surveys have shown that the president has very high approval ratings.

    According to a recent survey, trust towards him did increase significantly. However, it also showed that the Filipinos trust the Church even more AND above everything else!

    Trust ratings of various institutions in the Philippines

    Church: 68.1%
    Academe: 45.1%
    Media: 32.2%
    President: 21%
    Government: 15%
    Business: 8.9%

  • Patty

    I am glad to see the Catholic church will maintain traditional values. The Christian church – as a whole needs to reflect the word of God and what Jesus taught and stick to it.