March 12, 2014

U.S. Catholics more hopeful than expectant of changes to church teachings

Thursday marks one year since Pope Francis was elected to the papacy — a year in which the former Argentine archbishop’s tone and approach raised expectations of change in the church’s direction.

There’s little question that, after a year, he’s extremely popular – at least in the United States, where the pope is seen favorably by the vast majority of Catholics and even 60% of non-Catholics. A strong majority of American Catholics (71%) say that Francis represents a major change for the church, and among those, nearly all (68% of U.S. Catholics overall) call him a change for the better.

Many Catholics would like to see changes on specific church teachings, and some family issues (including contraception) will be discussed at an upcoming synod this fall. But they are less certain that those changes will happen, even under Francis.

Roughly three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (77%) say the church should allow birth control, while solid majorities also say the Vatican should permit priests to get married (72%) and female priests (68%). Half (50%) say the church should recognize same-sex marriages.

Considerably fewer Catholics actually expect to see such changes in the coming decades, although their expectations are growing when it comes to the issue of priests getting married. About half (51%) of U.S. Catholics say the church will definitely or probably allow priests to marry by 2050 – an increase from 39% saying this last year. Smaller shares expect the church to allow women to be priests (42%) or to recognize same-sex marriages (36%).

The pope’s impact as an agent of change can also be looked at in terms of the effect he has had on the church’s followers.

Although the share of the U.S. population that identifies as Catholic (22%) and the percentage of Catholics who report going to Mass at least weekly (40%) have not changed since Francis’ election, there are many ways to look at how the new pontiff has changed Catholicism. For example, about a quarter of U.S. Catholics (26%) say they’ve become more excited about their faith in the past year, compared with just 11% who have become less excited.

Topics: Catholics and Catholicism

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Bernard R. Jacobs3 years ago

    Respondents should realize that there are laws of god and laws of the church….birth control,
    Non-married priests, only male priests….are laws of the church created by men in the distant
    Past…will changing any of the above really change the fundamentals of Catholicism?
    I think not….I remember when if one ate a hot dog on Friday you were going to hell, I remember
    You were a sinner if you attended a Protestant service…the early church had married priests,
    Also, women who conducted services…does one believe early Christians did not use artificial
    Methods to control births…these are man made road blocks to practicing a life based on the
    Teachings of Jesus Christ

  2. Carol Paur3 years ago

    I am wondering whom you survey? Are these Sunday mass goers–every Sunday? Are these people who go to mass even on Holy Days of obligation? Are these people who actually practice and live their faith, or are these “Catholics” who want to pick and choose how to live their faith? Also, why have birth control, married priests, women priests, and same-sex marriage been the litmus test for Catholics? Why don’t we judge the church on how much we love one another, live out the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes? Why don’t we ever ask about finding God’s mercy and love in the sacraments? Nope–it has to always be about birth control, priests (married or women) or same-sex marriage…. Your research seems to say that if the Church accepts these things, then the Church will be okay. There are plenty of other churches out there that accepts those things. Why does the Catholic Church have to?

    1. Bruce Drake3 years ago

      Here’s the methodology and here’s the questionnaire

    2. Michael Lipka3 years ago


      Thanks for reading and for your feedback. When we talk about “Catholics” in our surveys, we’re talking about people who self-identify as Catholics. That’s the way we categorize any group that we describe, since we can’t track or verify respondents’ behavior. We are aware that the attitudes and opinions of practicing Catholics are often different than those of non-practicing Catholics, which is why we break down responses based on how often respondents say they attend Mass.

      We don’t take any positions on whether the church should or will change its teaching on same-sex marriage or any other issue, but we think it’s important to gather the opinions of the laity, which is the aim of this survey. Other research we’ve done on Catholics can be found here:….

      Michael Lipka

  3. Charles N. Marrelli3 years ago

    As a retired marketing exec I’d like to see the questions asked and I’d like to knoe how the person questioned qualified as a Catholic. I suspect that this poll is not representative of the facts, not of Catholics at least. And if it did it speaks loudly of our Catholic Church Bishops and their leadership. Charlse N. Marrelli, Writers for Life

    1. Bruce Drake3 years ago

      Here’s the questionnaire:…

    2. Bruce Drake3 years ago

      …and the methodology:…

  4. Stephen Swain3 years ago

    This organization, The Church of Rome, was designed to resist change with all its considerable powers and resources. How boring to always have two feet on the brakes. Sad.

  5. A. S. Mathew3 years ago

    Pope Francis’s popularity is getting wider not only in the U.S., but all around the world.
    In a year’s time, he did the cleaning of the Vatican Bank quite plagued with mammoth money laundering and misappropriation of funds for the luxurious lifestyle of the religious hierarchy and other vested interests.

    He is not a typical traditional Pope like the rest of the history. Pope John Paul II took the cross and fought for human right and ecumenism with the non-Catholic Churches. But this Pope is highly spiritual and charismatic with a greater knowledge of the Bible.
    When the Charismatic Conference was conducted in 2009 at Buenos Aires, when the non-Catholic Church leaders prayed for him, he knelt down and asked them to put their hand on his head to pray. He is such an humble saint of GOD.

    Though the Catholic Church claims that Peter was their first Pope, this Pope’s hero is St. Paul who had highly different theological tug of war with Peter touching the traditional issues of the first century Church. Pope Francis is highly concerned with the suffering people of the world and showing the real example of cross-bearing and self-denial which was not displayed by another Pope in the history of the Catholic Church. The Hindus-Muslims-Jews-Communists and the atheists respect him as a real disciple of JESUS CHRIST. He is a GOD-sent beacon of hope and liberator of the rejected people of the society.

  6. smogdew3 years ago

    What kind of Catholic education, where and by whom are these Catholics receiving? The Church’s tradition has not changed in over 2,000 years. I realize there have been proponents for some of these ideas for ions. During the 2nd Vatican Council, a group in the US, the NAPR, National Association for Pastoral Renewal, was actively pursuing priests marrying and women priests. Obviously they got nowhere fast.
    I find it disheartening that however many times the Church reiterates its stand, Catholics won’t take it as fact. I wonder what percentage of those who responded to this poll, are practicing Catholics?

    1. Immortalmortal3 years ago

      That percentage is probably zero. They claim to be Catholic when Baptists ad/or Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking at their doors.

    2. Geoffrey Smith3 years ago

      “What kind of Catholic education, where and by whom are these Catholics receiving?”

      Good question, smogdew. The answer is, of course, no kind of Catholic education at all.
      They are Christians of one sort or another, from a whole host of denominations, who all regard themselves as belonging to “the Catholic church of Christ” and are therefore entitled to call themselves Catholics. One thing they are not: in communion with the Bishop of Rome. This is the reason why all the POPs about the Catholic Church can be ignored by Catholics, as the questioners don’t enquire too closely into the authenticity of their correspondents’ claims to be Catholics, but simply accept them at their face value.
      When the media say that x% of Catholics want the Church to allow contraception, you can tell them to leave out the garbage.