Catholicism is losing its appeal in the US
Most Americans who were raised Catholic but have since left the RCC could not envision themselves returning to it, according to a new Pew Research Center survey examining American Catholics and family life.
The Washington Post reports that the survey’s findings were released on Wednesday, weeks before Pope Francis makes his first visit to the US.
Seventy-seven percent of those who were raised Catholic but no longer identify with the religion said they could not imagine themselves eventually coming back to the Church.,
The survey also examined US Catholics’ views on issues such as divorce, same-sex marriage and sinful behaviour – and found an openness for non-traditional family structures.
Although Catholics have long made up about a quarter of the US population, recent data has shown that percentage dropping. In 2007, 23.9 percent of Americans identified as Catholic. In 2014, that fell to 20.8 percent.
But the new survey illustrates something else about Catholic life in the US: while the percentage of Americans who may identify their religion as Catholicism is dropping, a much larger group of Americans identify as Catholic in some way.
In all, 45 percent of Americans say they are either Catholic, or are connected to Catholicism. That larger percentage includes “Cultural Catholics” (making up nine percent of those surveyed) who are not practicing Catholics but who identify with the religion in some way; and “ex-Catholics” (also nine percent) who were formerly Catholic but no longer identify with Catholicism at all.
And another eight percent said they had some other connection to Catholicism, for instance by having a Catholic partner or spouse. For the purposes of the survey, Pew kept each category mutually exclusive.
According to the survey, about half of those who were raised Catholic end up leaving at some point, while about 11 percent of those who left have since returned.
The study also sheds some light on how Catholic American attitudes on family, sex, and marriage compare with church teaching.
When asked whether they believed the Church should change its position on a variety of issues, a very large percentage of religiously identified Catholics – 76 percent – expressed a desire to see the Church allow the use of birth control. Sixty-two percent felt that the church should allow priests to marry, and about the same percentage thought that the Church should allow divorced and cohabitation couples to receive communion.
Fifty-nine percent of Catholics surveyed thought women should be allowed to become priests. Meanwhile, just 46 percent of Catholics believe the Church should recognise the marriages of gay and lesbian couples.
Among those Catholics who attend Mass weekly, support for these changes was lower overall. But Pew notes that even among this particular population, two-thirds of Mass-going Catholics think the Church should relax its prohibition on contraceptives.
Overall, cultural Catholics were more supportive of the changes named by the survey, while ex-Catholics were more supportive of allowing priests to marry, and for women to become priests.
Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one.
Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general US population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.
And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.
Despite those disagreements between US Catholics and Church teaching, the poll does not indicate that a change in that teaching would lead more Catholics to “revert” to their faith than do already.