Catholics share religious liberty concerns

WASHINGTON - A majority of Catholics say they share the U.S. bishops' concerns about the federal contraceptive mandate and other government restrictions on religious liberty, and the percentage of Catholics who say they are satisfied with the bishops' leadership has increased sharply in the past 10 years.

Catholics who attend Mass more frequently are more likely to agree with bishops' concerns on social issues, and those who attend less frequently show less support for their views on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Those opinions, made public Aug. 1, were among the results in a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The survey showed that 64 percent of Catholics have heard about the bishops' objections to the Department of Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate. Twenty-two percent say they have heard a lot about it, and 32 percent of Catholic churchgoers say their priest has spoken about the issue at Mass.

Among Catholics who are aware of the bishops' concerns on this issue, 56 percent agree with the bishops and 36 percent disagree. In the American population at large, 41 percent agree with the bishops and 47 percent disagree.

Although the survey showed that most Catholics aware of the bishops' concerns also agree with them, about half (51 percent) of Catholic voters said President Barack Obama best reflects their views on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, while 34 percent said the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney best reflects their views on these issues.

The survey results also gave high marks to Catholic leadership. Eighty-three percent of Catholics expressed satisfaction with women religious; 82 percent, with their own parish priests, 74 percent, with their diocesan bishop and the pope; and 70 percent, with U.S. bishops in general - a significantly higher figure than a decade ago when the satisfaction rate for bishops was 51 percent at the height of the abuse scandal.

White Catholics who attend Mass frequently are more satisfied with the leadership provided by the pope, bishops and parish priests than are those who attend less frequently.

Those surveyed who said they were former Catholics are much less satisfied with Catholic leadership, rating their satisfaction level at 31 percent for U.S. bishops; 38 percent for the pope; and 55 percent for women religious.

According to the survey results, neither Obama nor Romney has established a consistent lead among Catholic voters. Currently, 51 percent of Catholic registered voters said they support or favor Obama, while 42 percent said they support or favor Romney. Among all registered voters, 50 percent favor Obama, while 43 percent back Romney.

The Pew survey was conducted by phone June 28-July 9 with 2,973 adults, including 619 Catholics. It had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970