Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Univision Poll: Global Fracture Lines in Catholic Church Over Family Issues, with Widespread Rejection of Teaching on Contraception and Other Issues

As Conrad Noll points out in a comment here last evening, the Univision poll about which I blogged yesterday (and briefly on Sunday), has been very much in the news in the last several days. Conrad states,

The more salient comments point to a clearly emerging schism -- with Africa, Philippines and Asia on one side, N. America, Australia/NZ and Europe on the other with Latin America coming up the middle.

And he's right: as quite a few commentators are noting, the poll results reveal a split between what Catholics in the developed sectors of the world think about issues of sexual ethics and family, and what Catholics in the less developed part of the globe think. 

William Saletan argues in the Chicago Tribune that the poll results present a problem for Pope Francis, as he calls for Catholics around the world to be surveyed about these issues in preparation for the synod on the family: "In much of the world, Catholics aren't to the left of Francis. They're on the right." And:

On issues of family morality, the Vatican has a problem. But the problem isn't just that Catholics don't agree with the pope. The problem is that Catholics don't agree with Catholics.

As Grant Gallicho notes at Commonweal

Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the less likely its Catholics are to fully agree with certain church teachings.

Stephanie Yeagle at National Catholic Reporter also stresses that the survey results show the global church divided on major issues having to do with sexual morality and the family.

But as Patricia Miller (Religion Dispatches) and Andrew Sullivan (the Dish) both point out, it would be misleading to say that the picture painted by the Univision poll is one of total disunity among Catholics at a global level, when it comes to issues of sexual morality. Miller draws attention to the poll's findings "that Catholics around the world are significantly more liberal than their leaders on contraception, abortion, and the question of whether Catholics who have divorced and remarried should be allowed to participate fully in the church." As she also indicates, "And half of Catholics in the 12 nations surveyed said they wanted to see major changes in the priesthood, with women allowed to be priests and priests allowed to marry."

Her conclusion:

What’s clear from these surveys is that Catholic opinion and practice on personal issues like contraception and marriage have so far outpaced the Vatican that even the very unlikely change of accepting contraception use for married couples would only catch the church up to about 1965.

Sullivan also sees the findings about contraception as findings that unify the poll results from one part of the globe to another--he thinks that contraception is "the core issue" to  highlight as we interpret the poll's finding that "big majorities" (78%) of Catholics in many countries around the world reject magisterial teaching about this topic:

And in some ways, contraception is the core issue, as Pope Paul VI recognized in his unilateral rejection of his own commission’s recommendation on the subject. If sex can be licit without procreation, the arguments shift tectonically on a whole host of other matters. Such a change would open the question of sex as purely expressive of love rather than instrumental for procreation, of whether gay sex can be licit, of pre-marital sex, of a whole universe of possibilities – and areas for moral thinking. That’s why Paul VI shut the debate down prematurely – he saw the potential consequences.

As Patricia Miller also notes,

It’s only on the rapidly evolving issue of same-sex marriage that the church can still claim to hold with majority opinion, with 70 percent of Catholics agreeing that it should be prohibited, ranging from a high of 99% in the very not LGBT-friendly nations of Congo and Uganda to a low of 40% in the United States.


On gay marriage, respondents backed the church. Support for same-sex marriage outnumbered opposition in only two countries: the U.S. and Spain. Everywhere else, opposition outnumbered support. In Argentina and Brazil, the margin was very tight. In France it was clearer: 51 to 43 percent. In Italy, it was quite clear: 66 to 30 percent. In Uganda and Congo, the opposition figure was nearly 100 percent. Two-thirds of the entire 12-nation sample opposed same-sex marriage.


On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.

I will admit to being puzzled by the statement, "On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops," when it's followed by, "about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it." Which means, if my math is correct, that 60% of U.S. Catholics approve of gay marriage--and how does that fact nestle together with the claim that "on gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops"?

Stephanie Yeagle's valuable close reading of the poll findings about same-sex marriage reveals the following:

The question of gay marriage was the most divisive. The respondents were asked if they support or oppose marriage between two persons of the same sex, and globally, 66 percent were opposed. Ninety-nine percent of those surveyed in Africa opposed gay marriage while 54 percent in the U.S. support it. Thirty-eight percent in Europe support the issue, along with 37 percent in Latin America. Eighty-four percent in the Philippines oppose gay marriage. 
Overall, five percent more women, 10 percent more upper- and upper-middle-class members and 18 percent more young people (ages 18-34) are in favor of gay marriage. Those that support the issue were also asked if the Catholic church should perform same-sex marriages, but over half said no.

I find it interesting, by the way, that the poll asked simultaneously whether Catholics in the twelve countries polled favor or oppose the marriage of two people of the same sex, and also whether they favor or support such marriages being conducted in the Catholic church. I wonder how (or whether) the latter question may have skewed the responses to the first.

For Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, the poll's finding that big majorities of Catholics around the world reject Catholic teaching on contraception is apparently so insignificant that his report on the Univision poll doesn't even use the words "contraception" or "birth control." Instead, he zeroes in with laser-beam intensity on the unsurprising finding that, at a global level, Catholics remain divided over the issue of same-sex marriage, with a clear dividing line between the developed and less-developed parts of the world. 

Donohue's takeaway from the poll:

The media are not reporting these findings; all that is needed is a calculator. And honesty. It is still painfully obvious that Catholics in the developed world need to catch up with those in the developing world, especially those in Africa and Asia, in their support for Church teachings.

And, of course, this conclusion begs two questions. The first is, of course, why the opposition of some Catholics in some parts of the world to marriage equality ought to define "the" Catholic stance for everyone, when the rejection of the magisterial teaching about contraception by a majority of Catholics around the world in no way calls into question the legitimacy of the teaching rejecting same-sex marriage.

And the second question is why in God's name the decision of some people in some parts of the world to attack the human rights of targeted minority groups ought to define Catholic teaching and become "the" Catholic stance on any issue at all. As English journalist Damian Thompson, who is hardly a liberal, notes recently in The Telegraph, the decision of the Catholic bishops of Nigeria to support their country's draconian new law targeting gay folks makes sense at one level--it appears to reflect Catholic teaching about marriage--but at another level, it's deeply troubling.

Thompson writes,

Nigeria has banned same-sex marriage; the country's Catholic bishops have applauded the government for doing so. One would expect nothing less – Church teaching is 100 per cent against gay marriage. 
But hang on. What the Nigerian bishops have welcomed is The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2011, just passed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan. This punishes gay marriage with up to 14 years in jail and up to 10 years' imprisonment for membership or "encouragement" of gay clubs and organisations. As I wrote on Saturday, it's one of several ferocious attacks not just on gay marriage but on homosexuality itself.

Do Bill Donohue and the many Catholics who fall into his camp, or, for that matter, the many silent Catholics of the center who loudly profess that they support human rights for everyone but never open their mouths about the oppression of LGBTI human beings, really think that the Catholic church is scoring points for itself when its leaders support laws that encourage mobs to bay for the blood of gay people?

Or laws that allow gangs of neo-Nazi thugs to round up gay folks with impunity, torture them, beat and humiliate them, rape and murder them--as John Aravosis's exhaustive recent reports (and here) about the situation in Russia remind us is taking place in that country now?

These are the trends at a global level that Mr. Donohue challenges American and European Catholics to "catch up with"?! What will he be recommending that we louche Catholics in the developed sectors of the world catch up with next, I wonder--genital mutilation of women and corrective rape of lesbians?

Why are the terms "good news of Jesus Christ" and "human rights" antithetical terms for Mr. Donohue and for many Catholics in many places in the world, I ask myself? And how does any church that expects its message about the former to be credible end up on the side of those who egregiously deny the latter, even when the latter beat, torture, and murder fellow human beings solely because of who they happen to have been made by God?

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