Times Poll: American Catholics at Odds With Vatican on Many Teachings

Wednesday, 06 Mar 2013 11:38 AM

By Lisa Barron

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American Catholics want the next Pope to liberalize the church’s position on issues such as birth control, ordaining women, and allowing priests to marry, a new poll has discovered.

And two out of every three Catholics want Pope Benedict XVI’s successor to be “someone younger, with new ideas,” The New York Times/CBS News poll found.

Three-quarters thought it was a good idea for Benedict, who entered the Vatican in 2005 at the age of 78, to resign rather than remain in office until his death.

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The poll indicated that many Catholics feel the bishops and cardinals are out of touch. “I don’t think they are in the trenches with the people,” Therese Spender, 51, a homemaker in Fort Wayne, Ind., told the pollsters. “They go to a lot of meetings, but they are not out in the street.”

More than half — 54 percent — want Benedict’s successor to espouse more liberal teachings; only 19 percent wanted a continuation of his teachings, and just 18 percent preferred someone with more conservative ideas, the poll, conducted shortly after Benedict announced his resignation, found.

The most important area where Catholics want change is on the question of contraception. Ninety-one percent said the next Pope should support the use of condoms to help prevent HIV, and 71 percent thought he should favor artificial methods of birth control.

On the issue of women in the priesthood, 69 percent said it should be allowed. At the same time, 69 percent of those who took part in the poll said priests should be permitted to marry. But 56 percent believe the Pope should continue to oppose abortion. However, they think it’s possible to disagree with the Church on issues such as abortion and birth control and still be a good Catholic.

The poll found that most Catholics break with church teachings on many political and social issues: 62 percent would legalize same-sex marriage, 74 percent would allow abortion, albeit with some conditions, and 61 percent favor the death penalty.

And more than three quarters, 78 percent, of the Catholics surveyed said they are more likely to follow their own conscience rather than the Pope’s teachings on “difficult moral questions.” Not surprisingly, those who attend Mass more frequently also tend to adhere to the Church’s guidance more often.

The biggest problem facing the Church, according to those polled, is sexual abuse by priests and the scandal of its cover-up. Seventy percent said Benedict and the Vatican have done a poor job of handling the issue, and a majority said the issue had led them to question the Vatican’s authority.

Forty-five percent of Catholics see no change in how the Vatican is handling priests accused of abuse, and even fewer, 39 percent, said they see improvement lately.

As for the former Pope, 12 percent think his leadership has hurt the Catholic Church and 26 percent believe he has helped it. In contrast, according to CBS, 63 percent of Catholics felt the leadership of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, helped the church at the time of his death in April 2005.

Asked what they most want the next Pope to achieve, 12 percent of Catholics said they would like him to bring people back to the Church, 9 percent said they want him to modernize it, 8 percent want him to unify it, and another 8 percent want to see something done about the sex abuse scandals.

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