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Fall 2006 Poll

As part of its ongoing project to track the views of American Catholics, Le Moyne College has released the findings of the latest Contemporary Catholic Trends (CCT) poll in conjunction with Zogby International. The survey included questions on trust, friendship, community involvement, and religious belief and practice. It also asked about Catholic approval of the performance of the pope, the U.S. bishops, and local pastors.

APPROVAL RATINGS FOR PASTORS, POPE, AND BISHOPS

Since October 2001, CCT has tracked American Catholics’ assessment of how well the U.S. bishops are leading the American church. In fall of 2001 before news of the clergy abuse scandal broke the bishops enjoyed an approval rating of 83% with 43% strongly agreeing and 40% agreeing that they were doing a good job. Support is currently at its highest levels since news of the scandal. In the latest survey 71% of respondents strongly (29%) or somewhat agree (42%) that the bishops are doing a good job.

Responses Fall 2001 Spring 2002 Spring 2003 Spring 2004 Spring 2005 Fall 2005 March 2006 May 2006 October 2006
Strongly Agree 43% 27% 21% 18% 23% 22% 22% 26% 29%
Somewhat Agree 40% 41% 39% 40% 42% 42% 44% 41% 42%
TOTAL 83% 68% 59% 58% 65% 64% 66% 67% 71%

U.S. BISHOPS ARE DOING A GOOD JOB LEADING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

Catholics continue to be pleased with the new Pope. Most respondents (83%) agreed (45% strongly, 39% somewhat) that Benedict XVI is doing a good job leading the Catholic Church.

A large majority of American Catholics (88%) strongly agree (69%) or somewhat agree (19%) that the pastors of their parishes are doing a good job leading the local church. The CCT asked respondents if they felt it would be a “good idea if parishes were to choose their own priest from among available ordained priests.” Answers speak to the issue of democracy within local parishes, and 48% supported the idea. A strong majority, 65%, of those who never attend say they approve the idea. The 2001 Survey of American Catholic Priests by Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger found only 22% of priests supporting such a plan, suggesting a point of contention between leaders and laity.

Friendship and Trust
Recent research has found that Americans have fewer friends than in times past, with up to 25% reporting that they have no one to confide in (2004 General Social Survey). The CCT study finds that Catholics do not perceive themselves as unconnected. Respondents were asked how many people they “consider close friends.” Only 4% report having no one they consider a close friend, and 1% reported only 1 such friend. Over a quarter of respondents (27%) say they consider 10 or more people close friends.

Diversity of Friendships

Of those who reported at least 1 close friend, 79% report having a non-Catholic friend. Among the 94% with multiple friends, 55% report having Protestant friends and 29% say they have Jewish friends. Catholics are least likely to have atheist friends (18%) and Muslim friends (8%). About 35% reported having friends from more than 1 non Catholic religious tradition.

Trust

Respondents were asked if they believed “that most people can be trusted, or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people.” Fifty-one percent felt most people can be trusted, while 44% believed “you can’t be too careful.” The 2004 General Social Survey found that 36% of Americans said most people can be trusted. Asked about those who live in their own neighborhoods, 57% of CCT respondents said they could be trusted “a lot,” while about 12% said they could be trusted only “a little” or “not at all.” Less than a quarter of respondents, 24%, said that they trust the media to report the news fairly most or all of the time. About 20% said the media can never or almost never be trusted.

Volunteering and Charity

The Fall 2006 CCT survey contained a series of questions about volunteering and charitable giving. Over half of the respondents, 62%, said they had done volunteer work in the previous 12 months. The typical volunteer reported spending about 5 hours a month serving their community. Thirty-one percent said that most or all of that volunteer work was done in conjunction with a religious organization. When it comes to charity, 79% reported giving money to an organization, not including their parish, in the last year. Half of the respondents gave less than $300, while half gave more than $300.

Un-churched Catholics and Social Issues

Following a trend common among many religious groups, 20% of respondents who were born Catholic report that there was a time in their life when they left the Church. Overall, 10% of the respondents report that they do not attend Mass during a typical month. These non-attending Catholics differed from attending Catholics regarding a series of social issues. For example, a meaningful divide can be seen regarding the question of whether or not Catholic priests should be allowed to marry. Overall, 64% of respondents believe priests should be allowed to marry, but the proportion rises to 81% among the non-attendees. Regarding artificial birth control, 15% of those who never attend oppose its use, while 36% of those who attend at least occasionally oppose artificial birth control (opposition is highest among those who attend weekly or more, 43%).

Overall, Catholics are evenly split when asked if “all abortions should be illegal” (50% believe all abortions should be illegal, while 49% disagree and about 1% of respondents are undecided). Among those who never attend Mass, however, only 30% believe all abortions should be illegal. The divide regarding abortion is between those who attend every week or more and those who attend less than weekly. Fully 60% of those who attend mass weekly or more believe all abortions should be illegal.

Regarding capital punishment, a slight minority of Catholics (48%) say that the death penalty should be illegal, suggesting that the Church’s capital punishment teaching is largely disregarded. However, opinions differ by frequency of Mass attendance, with those who attend weekly or more the most likely to oppose capital punishment (53%).

Opposition to abortion and the death penalty are each elements of the “consistent life ethic” advanced by the U.S. Bishops, but only 29% of respondents reported such a combination of attitudes. The consistent life combination was most common among those who attend weekly or more (37%), while only 18% of those who attend less often endorsed both positions.

Financially Happy

A final note, 65% of respondents say that they are satisfied or very satisfied with their current financial situation.


Zogby International conducted interviews of 1,505 Roman Catholics chosen nationwide from a Zogby compiled database of Roman Catholics self identified from previous polls. All calls were made from Zogby International headquarters in Utica, N.Y., from 10/5/06 thru 10/10/06. The margin of error is +/- 2.6 percentage points. Slight weights were added to region, age, race, gender to more accurately reflect the Roman Catholic population. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.