Bad News for Bishops

Print More

We’ve long known that Catholics have roughly the same views on social issues like abortion and homosexuality as the rest of the population. What is so striking about yesterday’s Gallup survey is the liberalism of observant Catholics–those who attend church regularly–compared to their non-Catholic counterparts. Indeed (look at the moral acceptability of homosexual relations), they’re way more liberal.

Catholic Gallup.gifTo be sure, the regular-attending Catholics are less liberal than the nonregular-attending ones. But there’s really only one issue where the Catholic church’s teaching seems to have a distinctive impact: the death penalty. Where two-thirds of all non-Catholics and nonregular-attending Catholics find the death penalty morally acceptable, only a little more that half of regular-attending Catholics do. On that, the church has managed to move the needle–in a liberal direction.

Otherwise, there’s precious little here to make the bishops feel good–and that goes double for the conservatives who believe that a smaller, more with-the-program church is just what the doctor ordered. When a quarter of your regular attenders think abortion is morally acceptable and just half or less are with the program on all other social issues, you’re in big trouble. Especially when you realize that all those non-Catholic clergy are, by your lights, doing a much better job.    

  • A further oddity is that the bishops regularly treat Catholics who support same-sex marriage or think divorced Catholics should be admitted to the sacraments as if they are some tiny minority, some liberal fringe out to destroy the church. On most issues there is a wide range of opinion in the church, and in some issues it is the bishops who seem to be in the minority, and I am not just talking about birth control. Of course the conclusion cannot be that the majority is always right. But the bishops need to ask themselves whether they are teaching the right thing ineffectually and need to teach better, or teaching the wrong thing and need to start all over again.