Polls show a distressing, even shocking situation among Catholics concerning abortion. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center report:
- 56% of U.S. Catholics (those who identify as Catholic but are not necessarily regular church goers) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
- while the majority favor at least some restrictions, only 14% said that abortion should be illegal in all cases.
- Catholics are polarized on abortion along partisan lines, like most Americans.
- 68% of Catholics say Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.
- 44% had heard homilies that expressed opposition to abortion in the month previous to the survey, while 12% had heard homilies that expressed support for legal abortion.
- 57% admit that abortion is morally wrong.
- 34% of Catholics overall said they have “a lot” of confidence that their clergy can provide useful guidance on abortion, while 33% had “some” confidence.
- 67% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more often said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
What’s Scary in the Poll Results
With such a huge difference between occasional Catholics and practicing Catholics (14% who think abortion should be illegal versus 67%), obviously, we need to get a lot more Catholics into church every Sunday!
The fact that the majority of those regularly in the pews do not approve of legalized abortion may seem a good showing, but that still means that 1/3 of the people at Mass think legal abortion is acceptable. That is not okay.
Most disturbing is the 57% who think abortion is morally wrong, yet they still want it to be legal. With what other crimes do we say, “Well, it’s seriously wrong, but it should be legal”? That twisted thinking comes from the “I’m personally opposed, but . . . mindset.
Without doubt, the Church condemns abortion. St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all spoken unequivocally against abortion. Twice in the last week, Pope Francis very frankly called abortion “murder.”
Padre Pio said, “The day that people lose their horror for abortion will be the most terrible day for humanity.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace, because it destroys two lives, the life of the child and the conscience of the mother.”
The Church’s teaching on abortion has been consistent and clear, yet the Church’s members are either turning a deaf ear for their own reasons or just flat don’t trust the Church. When only 34% have confidence about what their parish priests preach, we have a serious communication problem.
Why is there this lack of confidence? I suspect it is not just about the parish priests but about the Church as a whole. You know how it goes — “How can a bunch of old men, and only men, relate to us? They sit on high at the Vatican and pontificate to us (pardon the pun), but they are old-fashioned, too strict and out of touch with real life.”
Perhaps part of the problem is the infrequency of homilies on abortion. Catholics are not getting the instruction and guidance that they need.
The Pew poll showed that 44% of Catholics reported hearing a homily on abortion in the month before the poll. It should be noted that the poll was taken just before the 2020 elections, and there are often admonitions about pro-abortion candidates at election time.
So that number is skewed too high. Another Pew survey learned that only 5% of online homilies discuss abortion. It is suspected that Sundays outside of the election season rarely see in-person homilies on abortion either.
Of particular horror is that 12% of homilies in election season actually favored legal abortion! This may sound harsh, but in my opinion the priests giving those sermons should be forbidden to raise the subject again until they have had accurate education and have repented in confession.
Repairing the Disconnect
What part of “grave moral error” do people, especially priests, not understand? Are we stricken with a Church membership that thinks they are smarter than centuries of theological study, smarter than God? Does it not catch their attention when popes and saints condemn abortion?
Yes, the Church hierarchy has had a problem including women and understanding women, but abortion is not just a women’s issue, it is a life issue. On life issues, the Church has a solid basis in science and in respecting the dignity of human life.
Since abortion is in the news almost daily, and since we are still killing 1700 babies every day in America, it is critical that the Church address this paramount issue, not just from the Bishop’s office but also from the parish pulpit; not just around election time, but as essential, continuous education.