The first thing that leaps out is how divided the Catholic Church in America is, two generations after Vatican II. Traditional Catholic are 5.7 percent of the population; liberal Catholics are slightly more numerous, at 5.8 percent; the plurality of Catholics — 7.5 percent of Americans — dub themselves “moderate,” while 3.2 percent of Americans choose the label “other” Catholics. The wording of the question may not perfectly map orthodoxy (“traditionalist” Catholics in my world are those who support the Latin Mass, for example, which many perfectly orthodox Catholics are not especially interested in attending).As I wrote to Maggie, I think the problem is that we have lost our appreciation of the beauty of chastity, of celibacy and of virginity. Until Catholic people fully grasp the power of the celibate vocation and of the virginal state, then we will not understand the sanctity of the married state, and why sexuality should be confined to matrimony. In Catholic circles there has been way too much emphasis on theology of the body. Yes, sexuality is God-given, beautiful and holy in its proper context but the celibate state has traditionally been considered more glorious for bringing a soul closer to how Christ Himself lived when on this earth. Until we once again truly honor that state of celibacy as a Catholic people, we will not enter into holy matrimony with the proper dispositions. Share
But the labels are clearly capturing something real, because by every measure in this study (and unsurprisingly), traditional Catholics are more supportive of Catholic teaching and practice than are liberal Catholics, with moderate Catholics falling in between and “other” Catholics generally less actively involved than liberal Catholics. Traditional Catholics are three times as likely as liberal Catholics to attend mass in a given week, for instance (58 percent to 21 percent). They are ten percentage points more likely to say they believe in one of the most basic Christian teachings: life after death (85 percent to 75 percent). Each week in Mass, Catholics like me recite the Creed, which includes our faith in the “resurrection of the dead and life in the world to come.” Traditional Catholics are twice as likely as liberal Catholics to say they believe in the resurrection of the body (51 percent to 24 percent). Thirty-five percent of liberal Catholic men consumed porn in the last week, compared with 21 percent of traditional Catholic men, to pick just one measure of self-reported behavior.
Traditional Catholics and liberal Catholics are about equal proportions of the U.S. population, but at Mass on a given Sunday, the balance shifts dramatically. By my back-of-the-envelope calculations based on the data presented, 39.5 percent of Catholics at Mass on any given Sunday are traditional Catholics, 39.5 percent are moderate Catholics, and just 14 percent are liberal Catholics (and 7 percent “other”). Traditional Catholics are a hefty chunk of practicing Catholics but by no means the majority. The Catholic Church in America remains seriously divided.
As I said, generally speaking, this is not news to any practicing Catholic, but getting the proportions right is revealing. Here is what I didn’t know until I looked at this data: Even when you ignore liberal Catholics, and those Catholics in Name Only who never attend church, and you look only at traditional Catholics who attend Mass at least three times a month — the Catholic weakness leaps out.
Let us take a look first at basic doctrine unrelated to the culture wars. Fewer than six in ten traditional Catholics who attend Mass regularly believe in the resurrection of the body (58 percent), compared with 75 percent of Evangelicals who attend services at least three times a month.
Catholic teaching says that weekly Sunday Mass attendance is a serious obligation and missing Mass is a mortal sin. Yet just 58 percent of traditional Catholics are at church in a given week, compared with 74 percent of Evangelicals.
When it comes to sexual-behavior measures in this study, traditional Catholics who are regular churchgoers are slightly less likely to use porn than are Evangelicals (29 percent to 21 percent) but also slightly more likely to report having premarital sex with their spouse (64 percent to 57 percent).
As far as attitudes and values, the situation is bleak. Take cohabitation: When asked whether it is a good idea for couples considering marriage to cohabit first, just 48 percent of churchgoing Catholics firmly disagree, compared with 79 percent of Evangelicals. When asked whether it is “okay” for two people to get together for casual sex, 86 percent of churchgoing Evangelicals disagree, compared with just 65 percent of traditional Catholics.
The Catholic Church is unique in teaching that a sacramental Christian marriage is literally impossible to dissolve. Yet when asked whether married couples with children should stay married, just 45 percent of traditional Catholics who attend Mass regularly definitely agree, compared with 58 percent of churchgoing Evangelicals.
Why this weakness? I invite my readers, especially Catholic converts who can compare and contrast, to help me speculate on why. (Read more.)