Thoughts on Pew’s In-Depth Poll of American Catholics

Pew Research conducted a thorough poll of American Catholics leading up to the Holy Father’s recent trip to the United States. The study covers a lot of issues facing American culture today, attempting to understand where Catholics stand on these topics. The findings are interesting even if expected. The entire poll is over five “chapters” long but let’s discuss a few glaring points. If you have time, make sure to check out the entire thing–handy graphs and all–at their site with the table of contents below:

There’s been a lot of polling over the past few years showing that fewer people than ever consider themselves Christian. While I don’t doubt that, percentage-wise, fewer people are Christian (let alone Catholic), something we need to keep in mind is that many of the people checking the “no” box on these polls feel the same way they did 20 years ago, only now there’s less of a stigma associating yourself with non-Christian or even atheistic beliefs. I’d submit that many people are just actually being more honest now than ever (how virtuous!). So, a non-Mass-going ‘Catholic’ dad in 1995 might have felt uneasy about admitting he really has no connection to the Catholicism he was raised with back then but now, with the popularity of open secularism in the West, this same man doesn’t feel so ashamed that he and his family have no connection to any formal religion. In fact, statistician and Catholic Leah Libresco drew my attention to this poll through her post discussing a similar point on First Things: Statting While Catholic.

This theory isn’t to view the situation with rose-colored glasses though, there’s an undeniable problem. And, to cut right to the chase, I am looking at all the careless, lax, fluffy, and lazy priests that have infected the American Church over the last half century. I’m looking at the priests that have led their flocks astray by downplaying reverence, up-playing sentimentalism, allowing sacred art to be discarded, using their homilies as a time to tell stories that hardly resemble any sort of Catholic thought, not teaching the faith to their parishioners with adult logic and philosophical intellect, and ignoring the difference between virtue and vice. We also need to recognize the destruction left in the wake of the Vatican II to properly contextualize these numbers. Fifty years later, it is obvious, especially to young Catholics, that the Second Vatican Council, despite its intention, has created more confusion, chaos, and empty pews than anything else in recent Church history. The Second Council is like a poorly written contract with countless loopholes to be taken advantage of, allowing relative interpretation to creep in…and that’s just what these crappy priests did. In many parishes, Mass has become something that more resembles a protestant worship service only with worse music and lower attendance.

Today's homily: God loves it when you say "please & thank you"
Today’s homily: God loves it when you say “please & thank you”

We have had time for the dust to settle. Now it is no longer the traditional Mass goers and lovers of Catholic orthodoxy that are viewed as the ones “haunting the turrets of outdated and reactionary Catholicism” (quoting Rachel Lu) but rather the aging progressive modernists that are either responsible for or a product of this debacle. The crop of impressive and faithful young laity and clergy supports the old saying “the Church outlives all heresies”. The tables have indeed turned, it’s the progressive modernist-style Catholics in the rear-view mirror of this unfolding history. However, as the data from Pew shows, we still have a huge mess to clean up.

So back to the whole point of this post: the poll. Let’s discuss some numbers. We see that almost half of Catholics consider unmarried partners of any gender combination raising children just as good as a man and woman in marriage raising a family. How can this possibly happen? I have some theories (it involves crappy lazy priests) but I’ll save you the rant.

We see that 83% of Catholics don’t understand the teachings on artificial contraception and with some even thinking the Church is wrong. Now, there is a notable difference between cultural Catholics (who rarely attend Mass) and weekly Mass-going Catholics, but not by much. Another topic many priests shy away from, confession, a SACRAMENT, is something few Catholics participate in, with 56% of them either never going or going less than once a year!

We see that parents either are not doing a good job or are not getting the support they deserve because half of children who grow up Catholic leave the Faith. So, since most Catholics seem to have no more than two children, that means…well you do the math.

We also see the trend of men becoming less engaged. While I applaud the strong female Catholics leading their families, this has caused many problems in attendance and vocations. Many of the liturgies you come across at some parishes are enough to make sure a man never thinks about setting foot in a Roman Catholic church again. At many parishes women (again, to their credit) nearly run the entire operation, but it shouldn’t be so lopsided. We need engaged men.

guitar massThe poll has a chapter asking which actions, if any, constitute a “sin”. These results show, in my opinion, that many Catholics don’t understand what “sin” means. This is something we’ve discussed on this blog before. Popular culture (and protestants) has a done a great job diminishing what “sin” is. Of course, many Catholics haven’t had explained that sin is simply taking an action contrary to the natural order in the world; that God is–in the most basic sense–the unseen order of the universe and a sin is any action that frustrates that order. That’s it. It’s not some outdated, judgmental term. But again, many Catholics aren’t aware of this because their priests likely decide to talk to the congregation as if they are children, incapable of any intellectual or adult discussion. Pastors need to lead their congregation’s spiritual growth by discussing the disorder that vice causes in our lives, and about the holy saints that lived lives of heroic virtue.
So, fellow Catholics, keep praying, keep evangelizing, and keep hope. We’ve about hit rock bottom–it’s only up from here. There’s an amazing crop of young priests seeking to “fix the fix” of 50 years ago. These young priests are in love with their bride, the Church, and they want to share everything she has to offer with their congregations. Liturgies are embracing Gregorian chant in the music and Latin in the ordinaries again. The Traditional Latin Mass is exponentially growing worldwide. We have tools at our disposal that help us communicate like never before. We have young men and women who desire big and beautiful families. We have a laity on fire with the Faith. Because of all this, the dire numbers we see are getting better every day.

So, yes, there’s some very unfortunate facts we must face temporarily. Luckily, all that’s right with the Church is strong enough to overcome anything that’s currently wrong. So be patient with your eyes on Christ and, in the meantime, pardon all the snark on TSP.

For an incredible breakdown of American Catholics by the numbers check out the linked table of contents above. There’s a ton of stats not mentioned in this article.


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