The Roman Catholic Church signaled a more accepting stance toward gay people in a report bishops released during the Vatican’s synod on the family this week. While reaffirming the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, the report said that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community” and asked if the church is capable of “welcoming these people.”
The new document follows Pope Francis’ more inclusive language regarding homosexuality and has been praised by gay rights groups for its “dramatic new tone.” The report also moves the church toward a position on homosexuality already embraced by a majority of American Catholics, particularly younger adults.
Fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18-29 said in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 13% who said it should be discouraged. Older age groups are less likely to favor acceptance. But even among Catholics ages 65 and older, 57% say that homosexuality should be accepted.
Some of these differences may correlate with the frequency of church attendance. Our research has found that older Catholics attend Mass more frequently than do their younger counterparts, and that Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly are more likely to say that homosexuality should be discouraged than those who do not. But even among churchgoing Catholics of all ages – that is, those who attend Mass at least weekly – roughly twice as many say homosexuality should be accepted (60%) as say it should be discouraged (31%).
Similarly, despite the church’s continued opposition to same-sex marriage, most U.S. Catholics (57%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally wed, according to aggregated 2014 Pew Research surveys. And again, younger Catholics are particularly likely to express this view. Three-quarters of Catholic adults under 30 support legal same-sex marriage, compared with 53% of Catholics ages 30 and older (including just 38% of those 65 and older).
When we surveyed American Catholics earlier this year, before the one-year anniversary of Francis’ election as pope, we found that about half said the Catholic Church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples (with younger Catholics more likely to support such a change). But, relatively few U.S. Catholics of all ages (36%) said they expect the church to recognize gay marriages by 2050.