Watch Challenges for Vatican on Connecting With U.S. Catholics on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
PBS NewsHour’s Ray Saurez recently interviewed Ave Maria University President Jim Towey and R. Scott Appleby, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, about polls indicating that many who self-identify as Catholic disagree with the Church's teachings.
"When you’re polling self-identifying Catholics, you might get a different outcome than you’d get if you’re polling individuals that are going to Mass every Sunday," pointed out Towey. "For some individuals, the experience of the Catholic faith, maybe they were cradle Catholics, maybe they left the Church, maybe they recently left the Church, and their experience would be different from those who find their Catholic faith integral to their daily lives. What you’ll find is that even within the Church, even between institutions like Notre Dame and Ave Maria University, we might have different takes on Church teaching and also on the role that our Cardinals and Bishops are playing in our lives."
Appleby described what he sees as a "disconnect" with Catholics in their local parish verses the Vatican and the hierarchy of the Church.
American Catholic laity have been at some distance from the Vatican and the hierarchy on some of the issues you mention for several years now and many would say that they feel much more comfortable, much more Catholic in their local parish. And that’s partly because their local priest, and the women religious, the sisters, and others who work in the parish understand their daily needs and interactions. It’s difficult to find the connection with the Vatican or even with the Archdiocese when you’re working in a local faith community and that’s your experience of Catholicism. Many of the problems facing the Vatican worldwide don’t touch the lives of ordinary Catholics, and so there’s a disconnect there. And some of the teachings, as they’re explained to parishioners, don’t meet or match their own faith-filled experience and I think that’s a problem.
Appleby also noted most Catholics going along with popular secular and cultural trends:
Catholics in some measures track very closely with some secular trends, moreso than evangelical Protestants. That’s partly because Catholics have assimilated very rapidly over the last couple of decades into the American mainstream and in some ways they have divided identities. They take their cues from the secular mainstream society, which is not hostile to religion necessarily, but will emphasize different values, and different metrics for what counts for success, and how to make judgments about how to make everything from family to the economy to one’s profession. As Catholics have assimilated into leadership positions in business and Congress, there is a struggle for their loyalties, especially on areas of Church teaching where it seems to contradict, or is prophetically opposed to what counts for what’s good in the mainstream.
Suarez admitted that Jim Towey was right to point out that the numbers used in the poll - because of who are asked the questions - are “skewed." He gave Towey the opportunity to explain the split.
The reality is the Catholic Church’s teachings are often a sign of contradiction. Their positions on birth control, for example, would be a minority position if you put it up for a public opinion vote. Nonetheless,this is a consistent teaching of the Church, has been for decades. Since Humanae Vitae came out that was unpopular. When the first definitive teaching came out on artificial birth control came out, when the pill was coming out, so I think that the Church is always going to be there standing there often in opposition to cultural trends – the Kardashian culture that we live in – and so when you see a poll come out today that says, for example, that they want to see women ordained as priests,or they want to see priests being able to marry, those track what you would see with other Christian denominations that have clergy. I’ve grown up Catholic only knowing a Church holding a minority opinion on a lot of views, but I’m proud to be Catholic and I share those views.
Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.