Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Poll shows disconnect between US Catholics and Church

New York Times
March 5, 2013

Roman Catholics in the United States say that their church and bishops are out of touch, and that the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction on issues like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Seven out of 10 say Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have done a poor job of handling sexual abuse, a significant rise from three years ago. A majority said that the issue had led them to question the Vatican’s authority. The sexual abuse of children by priests is the largest problem facing the church, Catholics in the poll said.

Three-fourths of those polled said they thought it was a good idea for Benedict to resign. Most wanted the next pope to be “someone younger, with new ideas.” A majority said they wanted the next pope to make the church’s teachings more liberal.

With cardinals now in Rome preparing to elect Benedict’s successor, the poll indicated that the church’s hierarchy had lost the confidence and allegiance of many American Catholics, an intensification of a long-term trend. They like their priests and nuns, but many feel that the bishops and cardinals do not understand their lives.

“I don’t think they are in the trenches with people,” said Therese Spender, 51, a homemaker in Fort Wayne, Ind., who said she attended Mass once a week and agreed to answer further questions after the poll. “They go to a lot of meetings, but they are not out in the street.”

Even Catholics who frequently attend Mass said they were not following the bishops’ lead on issues that the church had recently invested much energy, money and credibility in fighting — artificial birth control and same-sex marriage.


When asked which “one thing” they would “most like to see the next pope accomplish,” the most common responses that respondents volunteered were, in order: bring people back to church, modernize the church, unify the church, and do something about sexual abuse.

A spate of new information about prelates hiding the misdeeds of pedophile priests appeared to have taken a toll. A higher percentage of Catholics said the pope and the Vatican had done a poor job of handling reports of past sexual abuse recently (69 percent) compared with 2010 (55 percent), when the abuse scandal flared in many European countries. This is despite the church’s many reforms in the last 10 years and reports of abuse by priests in the United States declining drastically.

Majorities said they wanted to see the next pope maintain the church’s opposition to abortion and the death penalty, even though they themselves were not opposed to them. Three-quarters of Catholics supported abortion under at least some circumstances, and three-fifths favored the death penalty.

“I can understand how the Catholic Church stands against it,” said Geri Toni, 57, of Fort Myers, Fla., who attends Mass weekly. “We are not supposed to kill. That is one of our Ten Commandments.”

“But as a woman,” she said, “I have to make sense of it, and I believe choice comes down to the individual.”

On every other hotly debated issue, Catholics wanted the next pope to lead the church in an about-face. Seven out of every 10 Catholics surveyed said the next pope should let priests marry, let women become priests and allow the use of artificial methods of birth control. Nine out of 10 said they wanted the next pope to allow the use of condoms to prevent the spread of H.I.V. and other diseases.

Sixty-two percent of Catholics said they were in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. Catholics approved of same-sex marriage at a higher rate than Americans as a whole, among whom 53 percent approved.


The American bishops also appear to have lost ground among their own flock in their campaign to fight the White House rule that requires employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives — a campaign the bishops say is about religious freedom.

One year ago, two-thirds of Catholics polled said that religiously affiliated employers, like hospitals or universities, should be allowed to opt out of covering birth control for their female employees because of religious or moral objections. In the most recent poll, only about half of Catholics questioned said they agreed.

The issue has become a political litmus test, with Catholic bishops and religious conservatives saying that their religious freedom is being threatened by President Obama’s policies. But when asked what the debate is about, only 40 percent of Catholics polled said “religious freedom,” while 50 percent said “women’s health and their rights” — an indication that Mr. Obama’s framing of the issue is holding sway even among many Catholics.

Catholics seemed to feel far more warmly toward their local priests than those in the hierarchy. Seven in 10 Catholics in the poll said they felt that their parish priests were “in touch with the needs of Catholics today.” Eighty-five percent of those who attend Mass said the sermons were excellent or good.


Full article at the New York Times

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