A new poll reports that more than eight out of ten adult Catholics in the United States are satisfied with the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. Of these same Catholics, the poll reports, about 23 percent attend Mass weekly, while the oldest observant Catholics share with the youngest observant adults a high level of devotion to their faith.
The poll results were reported by the Georgetown-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in a report titled “Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics.” The report was authorized by the Communications Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In February, 2008 researchers polled 1,007 self-identified adult Catholics, comparing responses from those born between 1943 and 1960, called “pre-Vatican II,” those born between 1961 and 1981, called “post-Vatican II,” and so-called “Millennials” born after 1981.
The poll finds that those Millennial Catholics who attend Mass at least monthly have similar levels of religious practice as those categorized as pre-Vatican II. However, only 36 percent of Millennials, approximately 2.7 million individuals, attend Mass at least monthly, compared to 64 percent of pre-Vatican II Catholics.
Observant Millennials are just as likely to believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist as their pre-Vatican II elders, and they are more likely than older Catholics to say they are at least somewhat involved in parish life. These observant Millennials are the group most likely to consider their faith the most important aspect of their life, and to say that receiving the Eucharist is “very” important to their Catholic identity. They are also the most likely to say that devotion to the saints is “very” important.
Of all Catholics, 39 percent said that they considered baptism the most meaningful sacrament, while 43 percent of Millennials said marriage is.
While more than eighty percent of Catholics labeled as “somewhat” or “very” meaningful to them the sacraments of baptism, marriage, Holy Communion, and Confirmation, only two-thirds said the same of the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Two-thirds of all Catholics said helping the poor and the needy is a moral obligation for Catholics. Sixty-eight percent thought one could be a good Catholic without attending Mass every Sunday, while 55 percent thought of themselves as practicing Catholics.
Six in ten Catholics have a statue or picture of Mary on display in their home, while a third say that they wear or carry a cross or a crucifix. Nearly a quarter of Catholics carry a rosary, while nearly three in ten carry religious medals or pins and one in five carry prayer cards or coins.
The report also found that though knowledge of the doctrines and obligations of Catholicism tends to be higher among older Catholics, knowledge of the Bible is “typically greater among younger generations.” Agreement with Church teachings is often relatively high among the oldest Catholics, though also for many Millennials.
“Older Catholics, especially those who came of age prior to the Second Vatican Council, are typically more involved in Church life and attend Mass more frequently than younger generations of Catholics,” the report said. “In general, they tend to score higher on most survey items that measure ‘commitment’ to Catholicism.”
The CARA report found that, though all Catholics are obliged to attend Sunday Mass each week, those who attended Mass at least monthly still held views similar to those who attended Mass weekly. Frequent Mass attendance usually correlated with a person’s greater knowledge of the Catholic faith, greater awareness of current events in the Church, and greater adherence to Church teachings.
The report estimates there are about 51 million adult Catholics in the United States, about 22-23 percent of the nation’s adults. Thirty-one percent attend Mass in any given week, while 23 percent of Catholics say they attend every week.
Mass attendance is highest among Catholics who are older, female, married to another Catholic, have a college degree or more, and who attended Catholic educational institutions, especially Catholic colleges or universities. Fifty-four percent of Catholics who attended a Catholic college or university said “living my life consistent with Church teaching” is “very” important to their Catholic identity, while 49 percent of those who attended Catholic high schools and 46 percent of those who attended Catholic elementary and middle schools said the same.
The poll also suggests that the reputation of United States Catholic bishops has improved, with 72 percent of poll respondents reporting satisfaction with their leadership, compared to only 58 percent in 2004.
Archbishop George Niederauer, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee, which authorized the poll, said the poll report “reveals good will, healthy attitudes toward neighbor and an openness to the Church among young Catholics.
“Yet it also points out a need for greater efforts in education for both adults and young people. It’s heartening that so many are proud to call themselves Catholic. The challenge for church leaders is to help them see what Catholicism really means.”