A survey indicating mixed views on Church teaching among self-identified Catholics shows the “difficult challenge” facing Christ’s followers, but also offers a reminder of the need for fidelity, one commenter says.
“If you have a hard time understanding or agreeing with the Church on an important moral question, keep your heart open and be a faithful daughter or son,” said Joshua Mercer, political director of CatholicVote.org.
“Reject the media calls to cast this as a power struggle between those in the pew and those at the pulpit,” he told CNA Feb. 13.
Mercer said that Catholics have been “wrestling with these important moral questions for centuries,” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides many specific explanations for Church teachings and beliefs.
“The Church spells it out in plain English and backs up the position with solid explanations.”
To Catholics who are confident that the Church is wrong, however, Mercer said “the Church’s core teachings will not change.”
Mercer’s comments come in response to poll results from the U.S. Spanish-language television network Univision. It surveyed 12,038 self-identified Catholics in 12 countries containing more than 60 percent of the world’s Catholics.
The survey asked respondents’ views of Pope Francis and polled whether respondents were in agreement with Church teaching on divorce and remarriage, married priests, the ordination of women as priests, abortion, contraception, civil “gay marriage,” and whether the Catholic Church should perform “gay marriages.”
The survey found that supermajorities of Catholics worldwide believe the Pope is doing an excellent or good job. Appreciation was highest in Italy, where 74 percent said he was doing excellent. A majority of Catholics in Poland, the United States, and Argentina also said he was doing an excellent job.
However, the poll suggests significant division among Catholics about Church teaching.
Uganda was the only country where a majority of respondents agreed with Church teaching on all survey questions. The next most consistently Catholic country was the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mercer noted that the poll captures the opinions of non-churchgoing Catholics alongside those who attend Mass regularly. This could have led to misleading poll results, indicating more dissent from Church teaching than if only churchgoing Catholics had been polled.
“Many people will tell a pollster they are Catholic even if it's been years since they've sat in a pew. It's because Catholicism is deeply and profoundly a cultural (as well as religious) experience,” Mercer said.
“We have a faith that reaches into, and tries to sanctify, all areas of our life. So how do we reach them? We invite them back to Mass. Show them the beauty of the Church. Show them acts of charity by members of the Church,” he continued. “Pope Benedict XVI said that beauty and the lives of the saints were the only two true effective ways of doing apologetics.”
Mercer stressed that the Catholic faith is “integrated.” This means that the recognition of Jesus as the Son of God is a primary teaching, but also connected to the Church’s stand on other issues.
“It’s precisely because we love Jesus that we need to fight for the unborn,” he said as an example.
Worldwide, poll respondents were more likely to disagree with Church teaching on contraception than on any other issue.
In the U.S., 15 percent agreed with Church doctrine opposing the use of contraceptives, while 21 percent agreed that abortion should not be allowed at all. Thirty-two percent of respondents agreed that couples who are divorced and remarried should refrain from receiving communion.
Thirty-six percent of U.S. respondents supported Catholic teaching that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. Forty percent agreed in opposing “gay marriage,” while 59 percent agreed that the Church should not perform “gay marriages.”
The U.S. showed the largest socioeconomic gap among responses. Among the lower class, about 25 percent more people held Catholic views on divorce and “gay marriage” compared to the upper and upper-middle classes. About 20 percent more lower class respondents than upper and upper-middle class respondents held Catholic views on women in the priesthood and marriage of priests.
However, Mercer said faithful Catholics in the U.S. can find inspiration from their co-religionists in other countries.
“We are seeing an explosion of the Church in Africa. Not only is the faith spreading like wildfire, but Catholics in these countries strongly support the Church's teachings on life and marriage,” he said.
In addition, faith remains “strong and vibrant” in Poland despite pressures to drop its “rich Catholic heritage.”
“In many ways American Catholics face a growing hostility from secular forces in cultural and also from our government. In that way we can claim solidarity with our Polish compatriots who face a similar secular attack,” he said.
Mercer added that faithful Catholics should “strive for balance.”
“That means we witness to the truth of the evils of our day but we also show mercy for those ensnared by the lies of our age. People ‘on the other side’ are not our enemy. And we have to resist the urge to act like they are,” he said. “Our task is to show people the love of Jesus. Too often lately we have shown people only the truth, but not the love.”