The New York Times ran a front-page story today about an NYTimes/CBS News poll which revealed that the majority of American Catholics believe their church is out of touch with the modern world and the lives they’re living in it.
The survey asked respondents for their thoughts on a wide range of issues, including Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation last month; their hopes for the next pope; and whether or not the child sex abuse crisis has caused them to question the Vatican’s authority.
And the results are telling: 53% of American Catholics described the Catholic Church as “out of touch” with the needs of Catholics today; 49% said the same about most U.S. bishops. 55% said the reports of sexual abuse of children by priests led them to question the authority of the Vatican. When asked whether the next pope should become more conservative, generally continue Benedict XVI’s already conservative teachings, or adopt more liberal ones, 54% responded that they’d like the next pope to be more liberal. And when asked to choose between a younger pope with new ideas and an older pope with more experience, respondents preferred a younger pope with newer ideas by a landslide margin of 66%-26%.
A majority said they hope the next pope continues the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and the death penalty, but as the Times reports, “on every other hotly debated issue, Catholics wanted the next pope to lead the church in an about-face:”
Seven of 10 Catholics polled said the next pope should let priests marry, let women become priests and allow the use of artificial methods of birth control. Nine of 10 said they wanted the next pope to allow the use of condoms to prevent the spread of H.I.V. and other diseases.
Sixty-two percent of Catholics said they were in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. Catholics approved of same-sex marriage at a higher rate than Americans as a whole, among whom 53 percent approved.
This new poll is just the latest in a long line of studies showing that despite the U.S. bishops’ all-out crusade of anti-LGBT spiritual bullying and political activism, American Catholics not only support marriage equality, but they do so at an even greater rate than the general public. It appears as though U.S. Catholics are consciously rejecting the homophobic bigotry of their leaders in much the same way that they’ve decisively rejected the official church prohibition on contraception.
However, as I wrote last month on the very day Benedict XVI resigned, disappointment is almost certain for the pundits, commentators, and hopeful Catholics currently predicting (or even speculating) that the College of Cardinals will listen to the people and elect a pope who’ll enact such a doctrinal about-face. Benedict and his equally conservative predecessor John Paul II have appointed all of the cardinals who will elect the next pontiff, so unless they accidentally place the Catholic equivalent of a Manchurian candidate on the Chair of Peter, the next pope will be another theological conservative who will pick up the persecution of gays and lesbians right where Benedict and JPII left off. The Catholic church’s institutional homophobia will continue unabated, and the gulf between the hierarchy and the people will continue to grow.