The majority of Catholics do not agree with Church teachings on sex and marriage, according to several recent polls, two of them conducted by the Vatican itself.
The surveys lend credence to the idea that the Catholic Church is increasingly out of touch with the beliefs and lifestyles of many of its parishioners. That’s worrisome for Church leaders because, as older Catholics, who tend to be more socially conservative, die off, the Church may be left struggling to retain young people who find its teachings outdated.
A survey of more than 12,000 Catholics from five continents commissioned by Univision (one of Fusion’s parent companies) found that more than half of respondents don’t think it’s a sin to divorce and remarry outside the Church. Half think priests should be allowed to marry and two-thirds think abortion should be allowed in at least some cases. The vast majority also support contraceptive use.
The Vatican survey results were limited to Germany and Switzerland but also showed that a majority of Catholics in the two countries reject Church teaching on contraception and divorce. They also indicated support for gay unions.
“The Church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried, and on birth control, by contrast, are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases,” reads an English-language statement about the survey by the German Bishops’ Conference.
As the Associated Press noted, it’s notable that the findings of the Vatican survey were released at all, let alone publicized and addressed so directly by the German and Swiss conferences.
The Vatican commissioned the survey in advance of a meeting of bishops set for October and sent the poll to every national conference of bishops, the AP reported. But most conferences have remained quiet about the results, including U.S. dioceses. The archdiocese of Philadelphia told the AP that not publishing the findings was in keeping with Vatican instructions.
But Church leaders in the two countries have been vocal about traditional policies hurting the overall mission of the Church, and the survey results provide quantitative evidence to back their criticisms.
Even as these results indicate a disconnect between Catholics and the Vatican, 90 percent of those surveyed by Univision think Pope Francis is doing an excellent or good job.
That may have something to do with the fact that the pope made (relatively positive) waves when he said in September that “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
“We have to find a new balance,” he added, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
While Pope Francis was praised, particularly in the United States and Europe, for his comments, he has yet to make any substantial changes to Church doctrine.
How long progressive (for the Church) rhetoric alone can sustain his approval ratings and, more importantly, the health of the Church, remains to be seen.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.