Poll finds half of Catholic likely voters believe in the Real Presence

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron carries the Blessed Sacrament in procession during the feast of Corpus Christi in June 2016. Archbishop Allen Vigneron carries the Blessed Sacrament during a Corpus Christi procession in June 2016. | Jonathan Francis | Detroit Catholic file photo

A poll released this week found that of Catholic likely voters in the U.S., half believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and 37% go to confession at least annually.

RealClear Opinion Research conducted an online survey of 1,757 Catholic likely voters June 15-23. Conducted in English and Spanish, the poll carries a 95% credibility level of plus or minus 2.58 percentage points.

The poll asked Catholic likely voters about their religious beliefs and practices, and their political engagement.

The survey found that 37% of the respondents go to confession at least once a year, while 28% go less than annually, and 35% never do.

Half of respondents said that they “believe in the real presence of the Eucharist.” Thirty-eight percent said they do not believe this, affirming that “the bread and wine are symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ,” while 12% said they don’t know whether they believe in the Real Presence.

It is a revealed truth that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.

It is likewise de fide that the sacrament of penance is necessary for salvation to those who, after baptism, fall into mortal sin. Annual confession is a precept of the Church, and the Code of Canon Law states that “after having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year.” 

John Bergsma, a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA that “Once again, this survey confirms what most practicing Catholics know from firsthand experience: that the state of catechesis in our communities is often fair to poor, and that many identify as Catholics without understanding or practicing the faith.”

He emphasized parents’ responsibility for the formation of their children, saying that “if parents want to ensure that their children are raised as Catholics in truth and not name only, they will have to do catechesis in the home, and especially model their faith for their children by their own habits of prayer and frequenting of the sacraments.”

While “some schools and parishes do a good or even heroic job catechizing the children and young people who come … parents cannot ‘outsource’ the job of catechesis—which is really the process of Christian discipleship—to others,” he said.

“The best instruction in the faith is undermined if it doesn’t have parental support and example, and mediocre religious education can be overcome by the example and teaching of parents.”

The June survey results mirror those of other recent polls of Catholics in the U.S.

An October 2020 poll of Catholic likely voters by RealClear Opinion Research, in partnership with EWTN News, found that half of respondents said they believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, with just over one-third saying they believe the Eucharist is just a symbol, and the remainder saying they are unsure.

In that poll, 40% of respondents said they go to confession at least once a year, while 60% said they go to confession less than once per year.

And a 2019 Pew Research study found that 31% of Catholics in the U.S. believe that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist, through a process called transubstantiation, become the body and blood of Jesus.

Sixty-nine percent of Catholics that Pew surveyed reported their belief that the bread and wine used during the Eucharist "are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ."

"Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church,” Pew reported. “Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church's teaching."

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A small percentage of those surveyed- 3%- claimed to believe in the Real Presence despite not knowing that this is what the Church teaches.

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