A new poll shows that U.S. Catholics’ views increasingly align with mainstream opinion, including on topics like sex and marriage, which once made Catholics distinct.
The Pew Research Center released its extensive findings Wednesday, a few weeks before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the East Coast. It found that 45 percent of Americans have some degree of connection to the Catholic Church, whether as members, former members, “cultural Catholics” or having a family connection. (RELATED: Religious ‘Nones’ Over One-Fifth Of US, As Christians See 7-Year Low)
Self-identified Catholics overwhelmingly believe a household headed by married parents is the ideal setting for raising a child. But they also consider “acceptable” situations where children grow up with unmarried cohabitating parents (84 percent), gay or lesbian parents (66 parents), a single parent (87 percent) or divorced parents (83 percent).
Likewise, 9 in 10 American Catholics believe in the concept of sin, though their views of what constitutes a sin vary wildly. 57 percent believe abortion is a sin, compared to 48 percent of Americans as a whole. They diverge on whether homosexual behavior in a sin — 44 percent say yes, and 39 percent say no. And more Catholics — 54 percent — say living with a partner is acceptable before marriage, more than the American public as a whole. (RELATED: What Pope Francis Did And Didn’t Say About Forgiving Abortion)
One useful variable in Catholics’ divergent views is their frequency of church attendance. Catholics who attend church at least once a week are less likely to approve of children being raised by divorced, cohabiting or gay/lesbian parents.
When asked what changes the Catholic Church should make to its social teaching, the most popular answer by far was a repeal on the church’s ban on contraception. Only 19 percent of Catholic respondents said the teaching should be retained.
And over half of respondents also backed allowing cohabiting Catholics, as well as Catholics who were divorced and remarried with an annulment (Church recognition of the divorce), to receive Communion.
One of Pope Francis’ destinations on his trip to the U.S. later this month is the World Meeting of Families, a major international conference that promotes the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. Many see the pope’s approach to Catholic social teaching, characterized by a merciful and compassionate application of traditional doctrine, to be an obstacle in his public image among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
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