One benefit of a papal visit is that the media focuses its attention on the Catholic Church for a while. With Pope Francis set to arrive here in under a month, the media have ramped up their coverage of our church and its various controversies. Of course, LGBT issues are right up there among the key topics covered.
The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in partnership with Religion News Service released the results of a survey this past week in which Americans, and particularly American Catholics, were asked about the papal visit and what they think about church teachings and policies.
The main overall finding was that 67% of Americans and 90% of American Catholics give the pope a favorable rating. But when it comes to knowing or agreeing with some of his policies, there are some discrepancies, said Robert Jones, president and CEO of PRRI. In an article published in The National Catholic Reporter, Cathy Lynn Grossman analyzed some of the report’s data:
“The majority share his top priorities — on concern for the poor, the environment and the economy. But the flock veers from the shepherd on doctrine, particularly on sexuality and marriage.
“However, on question after question, Jones said, 1 in 5 Catholics said they didn’t know the pope’s views. And when they think they do, they’re sometimes wrong.”
The issue of same-sex marriage received specific attention in the survey. Grossman reported:
“Consider the confusion over same-sex marriage. Francis has not changed the Catholic church’s official position opposing its legalization. Yet many U.S. Catholics (38 percent) believe he supports it. . .
The confusion might be because people like to believe the pope — famous for his ‘Who am I to judge’ comment — thinks as they do: 49 percent of Catholics who support same-sex marriage mistakenly think the pope does as well.”
In other areas of LGBT issues, U.S. Catholics showed strong support for equality, as has been the case for a several years now:
The Catholic church preaches against homosexual behavior. But PRRI finds most U.S. Catholics either don’t know or don’t heed that teaching:
- 53 percent of Catholics say they don’t think same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs.
- 60 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
- 76 percent favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination.
- 65 percent oppose a policy that would allow small-business owners to refuse, based on their religious beliefs, to provide products or services to gay and lesbian people.
According to the PRRI summary of the report, U.S. Catholics think Pope Francis has a better understanding of their needs than the U.S. bishops do:
“By a margin of 20-percentage points, American Catholics are more likely to say Pope Francis (80 percent), as opposed to U.S. Bishops (60 percent), understand their needs and views well.”
The survey also polled former Catholics, and while it showed that they think favorably about Pope Francis, the same positive evaluation is not given to the U.S. bishops. According to the PRRI summary of the report:
“Nearly 2 in 3 (64 percent) of former Catholics hold a positive view of the pope and 59 percent say he understands U.S. Catholics well, but only 35 percent say the same for the American bishops. That aligns with their sour view of the institutional church: Only 43 percent hold a positive view.”
LGBT issues were not the only focus of the survey. Attitudes on economics, environment, immigration were among the other issues surveyed. You can read the entire report here or PRRI’s summary of the report here.
In one sense, there is no surprise in this survey. We have known for years now that Catholics overwhelmingly support LGBT issues. Just review the posts in our Statistics category to read about the overall increasing trend of support over the last few years.
To me the two most important facts are:
- U.S. Catholics incorrectly assume Pope Francis agrees with them on same-sex marriage
- U.S. Catholics–and former Catholics–believe Pope Francis understands them better than the U.S. bishops do.
These data should be wake up calls to both laity and hierarchy in the U.S. Catholic Church. Laity need to have a more realistic view of Pope Francis’ position on same-sex marriage–though as we have pointed out before, even as recently as yesterday, Pope Francis can send mixed signals on this issue.
The greater challenge, though, will be for U.S. bishops to recognize that Pope Francis’ gracious, welcoming style and his openness to dialogue and discussion are factors that U.S. Catholics admire and would like to see more of in their Church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Associated Press: “Ahead of pope’s visit to US, some friction over LGBT issues”