September 19, 2013

Majority of U.S. Catholics’ opinions run counter to church on contraception, homosexuality

Pope Francis already has made headlines for several reasons in his six months as pontiff, but an interview that became public Thursday may contain some of his most attention-grabbing comments.

The pope said that the Roman Catholic church cannot be “obsessed” with imposing certain doctrines and that he wants to “find a new balance.” Although he did not directly mention abortion, gay marriage and contraception in that immediate context, he had referred specifically to those three issues earlier.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” Francis told Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal.

The church teaches that abortion, artificial contraception and homosexual activity are wrong. However, majorities of American Catholics have opinions on contraception and homosexuality that run counter to church doctrine.

A Pew Research poll conducted in March, just after Francis’ election, found that three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (76%) say the church should permit birth control. About half (54%) of U.S. Catholics favor same-sex marriage, according to aggregated Pew Research data from this year, and just a third (33%) say homosexual behavior is a sin, according to a May survey.

Views on abortion are more mixed, with combined surveys from 2011 through 2013 showing opinion is split among U.S. Catholics. About half (53%) of white Catholics say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41% say it should be illegal in all or most cases; among Hispanic Catholics, 43% say it should be legal in all or most cases, while 52% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

A recent Pew Research Center survey – conducted before these comments were published – shows that most U.S. Catholics view Pope Francis favorably. About eight-in-ten (79%) say they have a favorable view of Francis, while just 4% view him unfavorably. That’s roughly equivalent to the high water mark for Pope Benedict XVI, who was rated favorably by 83% of U.S. Catholics in April 2008 following his visit to the U.S. About three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (74%) rated Benedict favorably in February 2013 immediately following the announcement of his resignation.

Topics: Abortion, Catholics and Catholicism, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

  1. is an editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

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  1. john wright2 months ago

    Shocking that Catholics do not share the Church’s position on homosexuality and contraception—- no, not at all. Most Catholics in the US are ignorant of the basis for the Church teaching on these matters (the principle of the natural law- the voice within that says this is unnatural and wrong- eg homosexuality and artificial birth control) because the bishops have chosen to spend the Church’s educational energies and resources (Catholic Schools) on less than 15 percent of the baptized Catholics and let the other 85 percent float on the rough waves of the secular culture and because the vast majority of Catholic priests do not have the intestinal fortitude to take the risk of preaching on the natural law from the pulpit. Only 53 percent of Catholics think that killing the being living in the womb of a mother is immoral a condition which in itself constitutes a scandal.
    The bishops have to re-think the whole matter of Catholic education (both from the pulpit and in some construct for formal instruction)and create a system that expends equal resources on the non Catholic school children as they do on those who can afford the blessings of Catholic schools.

  2. Frances Frainaguirre1 year ago

    I was taught, as a Catholic, that sex is for the creation of life. If you don’t want to have children, do not have sex. Pleasure is a by-product of sex, not the main purpose of sex! It would be interesting to find how many Catholics know this! —and practice this! I believe that the Catholic hierarchy is out of touch with what society and so many product/ads tell us about sex. I have not even heard the hierarchy explain this. If one follows the above logic, then homosexual activity, which can not produce children is forbidden. One more thought; if the purpose of marriage is to bring new life into a stable and loving situation where that life can be strengthened and nourished then what does this mean? Not all hetero marriages are stable and loving–therefore not all children receive the ideal. In homo sexual relationships, it is possible for a child to be strengthened and nourished also. Who is capable and willing to make it possible for children to be raised in an optimal (perfect is not possible) environment? I thought I heard Pope Francis say that he is not the judge–nor are any of us the judge. God is the judge with the persons involved. And—who is God? God is love! Where love is there is God!

  3. Zelig2 years ago

    By the way, while I agree with the substance of Jeanne’s comments, I do not share the less charitable views expressed about Pew researchers and journalists, whom I have always found to be a professional group committed to accuracy and getting it right. My disagreement is less associated with speculations about bias and more with their interpretations of this specific set of data.

  4. Zelig2 years ago

    The claim about Catholics and abortion/gay marriage is misleading. There is a clear distinction between religious, practicing Catholics (i.e., those who attend Mass on a regular basis) and non-practicing, “cultural” Catholics. The former is much more supportive of Church teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage, while the latter deviates substantially. To put these two groups together to say that “Catholics” deviate from Church teaching on these issues is really an apples and oranges comparison. Strong majorities of those Catholics who are active and who take their Catholic faith seriously go along with Church teaching on these matters; on the other hand, less- or non-devout Catholics do not follow Church teaching on these subjects. It is not a surprise that individuals who merely identify loosely with the Catholic label and who are not very religious are far more supportive of abortion and same-sex marriage.

    1. Joe1 year ago

      CORRECT !!

  5. jeanne2 years ago

    Wow! So grossly misleading…. for starters the Pope will not waver on issues of faith and morality. He can’t. He was asking people not to focus on judging homosexuals and abortion. NEVER said it was not wrong; just that it was Gods job to judge.This article is subtly alluding to the suggestion that the church was changing positions on homosexual marriage and abortion … 54% of US Catholics are in favor of homosexual marriage? Really? Not credible at all to me; someone who attends weekly Mass and whose children attend Catholic school daily. Same goes for 53% of White Catholics favor abortion in most instances. Favor abortion? White? Seriously? Amazing, insulting and incorrect.
    You really do need to vet your journalists and their sources…. you also need to get a Catholic who understand our religious doctrine.This sort of innuendo is best left for gossip rags. Pew should not be publishing this ridiculous innuendo rot.Very unprofessional.

    1. Jared2 years ago

      Actually, I’m not at all surprised by the results of the Poll. There are many middle-of-the-road Catholics out there who are in disagreement of the Bishops.

    2. Joe1 year ago

      CORRECT !