If you’ve read the news in the last few days, you may have heard about a recent Pew poll finding that most Catholics are fine with non-traditional families, along with homosexual behavior and other actions the Church teaches to be sinful.

What’s missing in most of these media reports is nuance. Going into the details of the Pew poll, one finds a significant difference between the views of practicing Catholics and non-practicing Catholics.

For example, when “Catholics” are lumped together as a group, only 39% polled believe that homosexual behavior is sinful, as the Church teaches. When narrowing the scope to Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week, that number jumps up to nearly 60%. While this still displays a need for catechesis among many Catholics, there is a 20-percentage point difference between the two figures. The headlines that ignored this discrepancy offered a misleading narrative that fails to show the true state of the Church.


The truth is that there is a wide gap between Catholics who practice their faith and those who say they are Catholic but do not practice their faith. Predictably, those who practice their faith are more likely to agree with what the Church teaches.

A recent Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus highlights this gap:


And there’s another factor complicating the results of the Pew poll: the wording of the questions.

For example, when exploring the views of Catholics on different family situations, poll participants are asked if each situation – married parents, unmarried parents, same sex parents, single parents, and divorced parents – is a) “acceptable and as good as any other arrangement,” b) “acceptable but not as good as some others,” or c) “not acceptable.”

Andrew Walther, vice president of communications for the Knights of Columbus, explains:

Is the average survey taker going to say that it is “not acceptable” for a child to be raised by a divorced parent or a single parent? Probably not in many cases, in part, because what would happen to the children in that situation then becomes unclear. So it is entirely reasonable to assume that the “not acceptable” number is going to be lower than it might be with different wording.


First, you have three responses: one is totally positive, one is partially positive, and one is unequivocally negative. There isn’t a “mostly negative” option.

Second, imagine that the word chosen for the survey had been “preferable” rather than acceptable. It is entirely possible that people would be much more likely to say something was “not preferable” to “not acceptable,” and this might give us all a better read on where respondents actually stand.

That said, even with the “acceptable” wording, and even looking at all self-identified Catholics regardless of whether they practice their faith, 90 percent told Pew that a married mother and father were “acceptable and as good as any other arrangement for raising children.” No other child-rearing arrangement they surveyed even got to 50 percent in that category. That’s telling.

There is some good data in this survey but the key to reading it – or any other – dealing with Catholic data is to look at the practicing Catholic numbers, as you would do with any other religion. It is there in the Pew survey, and in most others, and although it wasn’t highlighted it is central to what the data actually says about the Catholic faith in the United States.