Yesterday I posted on the local paper’s editorial concerning last week’s document published by the US Bishops on the subject of religious freedom. One of the editorial’s points (actually a distraction from the main topic) was the notion that 98% of Catholic women have used artificial birth control.
Now, I’m not naive. I realize that many Catholics use or have used artificial means to avoid pregnancy. But the idea that only 2% don’t or haven’t seems absurd to me. Where do these figures come from? It seems like some source or other (in this case the White House blog) is always finding out that most Catholics don’t believe some Church teaching or other.
Father Robert Barron, one of the outstanding Catholic authors and speakers of our time says that the second biggest religious group in the United States is ex-Catholics. I disagree. I think the largest religious group in the country is nominal Catholics; Catholics in name only. These are people who haven’t seen the inside of a Catholic church, or any other house of worship, in years. When a pollster calls and asks them their religious preference they say “Catholic” because they can’t think of anything else to say and they’re embarrassed to say that they have no religion at all.
The pollster proceeds to question them on one thing or another, often with slanted and/or confusing questions, and invariably their answers go against Catholic teaching. This is how you get bogus headlines like “ONLY 30% OF CATHOLICS BELIEVE IN THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST!!!”
Take a look at the people who surround you at mass. Why would they be there if they didn’t believe what the Church teaches? Here’s the story behind the 30% believing in the Real Presence. In 1992 the Gallup organization took a poll of 516 “Catholics”. It is unknown how they decided whether a person was Catholic or not. They gave these people five choices for the definition of the Eucharist, only one of which was correct. But, and this is the big thing, three of the other choices sounded very right. The differences were beyond the understanding of most Catholics.
The fact is that only 30% of those polled understood the question. 92% believed something that sounded like the Real Presence. This hardly means that only 30% of Catholics believe what the Church teaches.
Getting back to the claim that 98% of Catholic women have used artificial birth control, the claim comes from a study done by the Guttmacher Institute. The most prominent supporter of the results of this study is the Obama White House. The results are interesting. According to Guttmacher, 89% of young, never-married Catholic women are or have been sexually active. It’s not very surprising that women who reject the Church’s teaching on sexual promiscuity also reject Her teaching on contraception. It’s worth mentioning that 40% of the respondents attend mass less than once a month or never.
The women surveyed were given a choice of several religious groups and told to pick one. One of the choices was “none”. Surprisingly, 34% of those claiming no religious affiliation said they do attend church services. Go figure.
The bottom line of all this is that the way the questions are asked makes a big difference in survey results. Asking respondents to define their own religious affiliation is not the best way to learn the truth. The fact that more than 3 out of 1o women who don’t go to church, actually do go to church tells us something about the accuracy of these polls. People who haven’t been inside a Catholic church since they were in grade school still consider themselves Catholic.
A clever pollster can control the results of a survey to the point that the whole thing is suspect. Do yourself a favor. When you hear a statistic that doesn’t seem to make sense, take it with a very, very large grain of salt.
Don’t get me wrong. The Church teaches that artificial birth control is a sin, then anything above 0% is a problem. If Jesus told us that the bread and wine are His Body and Blood, then anyone who says they’re a Catholic and doesn’t believe this basic teaching has some serious issues. We have a number of problems that we need to address, both as a Church and individually. What we don’t need is distorted polls that make the problem appear more serious than it really is.