Catholic Disbelief


A recent Gallup Poll* taken from a sample of Catholics around the USA revealed that nearly half of them do not take the Church's claims to speak authoritatively on matters dealing with sex and marriage very seriously.  When asked what beliefs and practices among a selection of twelve suggested they thought were most identifiably "Catholic", belief in Resurrection of Christ and concern for the poor vied for top place, with belief in the Church's teaching about Mary as "the Mother of God" (in other words, Christ's divinity) and adherence to the sacramental system (Baptism, Holy Communion, etc.) rivaling for second. At the very bottom of the list was adherence to a celibate male priesthood. Next to that, near the bottom, adherence to the Church's condemnation of abortion and disapproval of the death penalty was only slightly ahead of its rules on contraception, divorce and remarriage.


All this suggests several things. Most obvious is that the Church's credibility on matters of sexuality is shot and nearly so its authority on matters of life and death.  And judging from the direction that legislation has been taking in Europe, even in the so-called "Catholic Countries" one gets the impression that a similar poll there would yield much the same results, even if with some significant differences -- for example, in Europe the death penalty is just about universally outlawed, yet "Catholic" Spain recently approved same-sex marriages.


Another impression is that when compared to many other parts of the world, Catholics in the USA, like those in other in comparatively rich industrialized countries may take their faith (where they still claim it) "with large dose of salt", so to speak, when it comes to what they consider matters of personal, especially sexual, morality. And the poll indicated that the younger and the more educated the respondents were, the more these differences surfaced. 


Of course, some may point to the top of the list to emphasize the bright side of things as a confirmation that the really essential elements of Christian belief are still intact.  True, but it is always easier to say you believe in something rather than live up to the tougher implications of those beliefs and the moral requirements of Christian living.  With this in mind, the Church has generally been quite forgiving.


Nevertheless, I see real trouble down the line.  It has been reported that the new pope has long held the view that the Church must continue to insist on doctrinal conformity even if the price of doing so will be to shrink in numbers.  It has also been reported for some years that those in charge of the Vatican have more or less written off Europe, and more recently North America, and are placing their bets on the burgeoning growth of Catholicism in Africa, certain parts of Asia, and most of Latin America.  But what will happen when these parts of the world gradually become more industrialized and affluent?   


My own guess is that unless the official Church, especially the Vatican, becomes more attentive to what its younger and more educated members (especially those in the United States and in Europe) are saying, that its future, even in the rest of the world, is going to become, sooner or later, more and more limited.  True, as Jesus said, "Many are called but few are chosen."  But if those who are supposed to be doing the calling don't understand the thinking, or even the language of those to be called or can come up with more persuasive reasoning to change their thinking, then the future of world-wide belief in the Church as a moral authority doesn't look very promising.


* See the National Catholic Reporter, Sept. 30, 2005.


R W Kropf   1/5/06                                     


Disbelif.doc  624 words  06-01-05.html