success stories

Posted January 23, 2004

Catholics in America

Excerpts from John Zogby’s Talk at The Catholic University of America
on how American Catholics see Catholicism,
What They Believe in, and What Improvements the Church Needs to Make

Catholics in the United States so strongly identify themselves first as Americans before they think of themselves as Catholics that the church is in danger of losing its identity, according to pollster John Zogby.

Especially among younger people, religion plays an increasingly smaller part in how people think of themselves.

The tendency of Americans to identify themselves first by nationality means, for one thing, that the "Catholic vote" politicians have sought for generations is really nonexistent.

There are Catholic sensitivities," such as defensiveness when someone insults the pope

Catholics are voting as veterans, as members of an ethnic group or a union, or according to the region they live in as their primary identity, only secondarily, or maybe even (thirdly) do they vote as Catholics.

The dilution of Catholics' religious identity goes beyond politics. Catholics are also increasingly likely to accept that another religion is as likely to lead one to God as Catholicism is.

Sixty-three percent of Catholics said they believe Catholicism is one of many faiths that provides a path to God.

Two thirds of Catholics over age 65 said they believe there's something special about the Catholic Church that is not found in other faiths. Only 48 percent of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29 agreed with the statement.

88 percent of Catholics over age 65 said they believe that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead. Of Catholics between 18 and 29, only 29 percent said they hold that belief.

The gap between younger and older Americans on religious beliefs is much more dramatic than it is on other subjects that traditionally reflect generational differences, such as political interests. American Catholics are also much different from their counterparts in at least one other country where Zogby has polled.

Zogby predicted that the trend of American Catholics seeing their faith as a minor part of their identity would become more striking if the institutional church fails to adapt to calls from the laity for basic changes in structure following the sex abuse scandal.

While those polled say their spirituality hasn't been diminished because of the scandal and their acceptance of theological teachings is unaffected, American Catholics voice strong opinions about the need for changes in how the institution treats the laity, for instance.

Seventy-six percent call for greater participation by the laity in how the church operates. Sixty-one percent want bishops to consult with lay people before decisions are made in cases of alleged sexual abuse by clergy. And 82 percent say bishops should resign if they knowingly transferred to another parish priests who they knew had sexually abused someone.