As the Vatican surveys the opinions of Catholics in dioceses and parishes around the world, two news stories caught my attention this week. Signs of the times for sure.
(1) On the USA side of the Atlantic, a Roman Catholic bishop in Illinois insisted that Satan was behind his state’s recent legalization of same marriage. When it was announced that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn would be signing equal marriage legislation into law next week, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki said he would be holding an exorcism at the same time in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. The bishop stressed that sane-sex marriage “comes from the devil and should be condemned as such.”
Interestingly, support for gay marriage has increased in the United States in recent years, and support is actually higher among American Roman Catholics than it is among Americans overall. A majority of Catholics, 54 percent, now support gay marriage, compared to 47 percent of all Americans, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. Bringing great dismay to American Catholic bishops, who are counting on Hispanics to reinvigorate the US Catholic Church, the poll also found that more Hispanics, Catholic or otherwise, support same-sex marriage than any other US demographic group. Sixty-three percent of self-identified Hispanics are in favor of gay marriage, compared to just 32 percent of blacks and 48 percent of whites.
I guess there will have to be a lot of episcopal exorcisms in North America.
(2) On the other side of the Atlantic, Catholics are thinking for themselves as well. Three large polls carried out this year for the Westminster Faith Debates reveal a profile of British Catholics clearly adrift from Pope-Benedict-style Catholicism, and significant disparities between older and younger believers.
Only 36% of British Catholics surveyed say that they view the Catholic Church as a positive force in society. This is a very big shift. Even up to the early post Vatican Ii days, British Catholics were noted for their staunch support of a nineteenth century Roman Catholic ethos….
When those contemporary British Catholics, who take a negative view of their church, were asked their reasons, the answers that stand out are: it discriminates against women and gay people; the ongoing child abuse scandals; it is hypocritical; and because it is too morally conservative. A fascinating development, echoed of course in contemporary Ireland.
Overall, British Catholics have moved far from a Pope John Paul / Pope Benedict model of what it means to be a faithful Catholic. Note well. This does not mean, however, that most British Catholics have become secular, atheistic, or even non-Catholic – it means that they have become Catholic in a different way.
British Catholics today are much less likely to go to church every week and to think of themselves as “religious.” They are more likely to support the Catholic Church’s social teachings; but they are increasingly less likely to support traditional Roman Catholic natural-law-based teachings about sex, gender, and the traditional family.
British Catholics as a whole are now in favor of allowing same-sex marriage by a small margin and over half of British Catholics under 50 now say “same-sex marriage is right.” British Catholics are contemporary and critically-reflective believers. Interesting again, when asked where they look for guidance in living their lives and making moral decisions, over half of those interviewed said they rely on their own reason or their own judgement. Another fifth turn to family or friends. Only eight percent turn to the “tradition and teachings of the Church.” I think that is unfortunate, actually, because we Roman Catholics do have a rich tradition of Christian wisdom and belief.
Far from endorsing highly critical hierarchical remarks about mainstream “secular” culture (like US Bishop Paprocki), Growing numbers of Catholics in Britain actively embrace some aspects of its contemporary culture’s ethical progress, including its widening commitment to principles of human liberty and equality. Here I see a genuine resonance with Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes.
What does all this mean for the future? The Roman Catholic Institutional Church clock has moved far beyond the eleventh hour. On both sides of the Atlantic, the credibility gap between hierarchical leaders and the rest of the church is widening. The 2014 Synod on Family and Evangelization to Promote Episcopal Collegiality will have a lot of work to do.
And it will have to do a much better job of re-establishing the credibility of hierarchical leadership than did the most recent meeting of our National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Their most notable accomplishments appear to have been approving the drafting of a formal statement on pornography to be issued from the entire body of bishops; and approving five liturgical items presented by the Committee on Divine Worship.