Pew Study Finds Shifting Catholic Stances on Family

October 30, 2015
Pew Study Finds Shifting Catholic Stances on Family

While the Catholic Church is doctrinally opposed to divorce, same-sex-marriage, and premarital cohabitation, many American Catholics are increasingly open to such family configurations.

This September, the Pew Research Center published its findings from a survey of over 5,000 self-identified Catholics across the United States. They found that, while 90% agree that a family headed by a mother and a father is an arrangement they consider “acceptable and as good as any other,” many are equally open to other types of family arrangements. Pew reports:

“84% of Catholics say it is acceptable for unmarried parents who live together to bring up children, including 48% who call this as good as any other arrangement for raising children. And fully two-thirds of American Catholics think it is acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children, including 43% who say a gay or lesbian couple with children is just as good as any other kind of family.”

70% of the respondents consider a husband and wife who choose not to have children as “acceptable and as good as any other way of life.”

Furthermore, the majority of American Catholics surveyed favored changes in church teachings that would reflect the above views. The strongest collective desire for change surrounds the issue of contraceptives, whose use the Church currently opposes. 76% of Catholics believe the Church should reverse its position on birth control, while 62% would like the Church to allow for divorce without annulment and 46% would like the Church to recognize same-sex marriages.

Such issues were at the forefront of the 2015 Synod on the Family, a meeting of several hundred bishops that advise the Pope. The bishops discussed questions of cohabitation, divorce, same-sex marriage, and the participation of women in Church leadership.

Anthony Faiola wrote for The Washington Post that he saw the Synod as “extending a more welcoming hand to divorced and unmarried couples but stopping short of calling for clear alterations in church policies.”

The Synod’s lack of resolution has left some announcing that “the conservatives have won” and others feeling that, with the Synod, “the church doors opened just a crack” for more progressive policies.

Pope Francis’s closing remarks reflected the difficulty of honoring vast cultural and ideological disparities within the Church:

 “What seems normal for a bishop on one continent is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”

The Pope’s remarks on the interplay of culture and belief resonate with Pew findings of Catholic views in light of broader American perspectives. Changes in American Catholics’ attitudes on issues of family and morality have corresponded with a broader shift in American public perceptions of acceptable family structures. From 2001 to 2015, the percentage of Catholics in favor of same-sex marriage rose from 40 to 57, mirroring the general public’s jump from 35% in favor to 55%.

Approximately 1 in 5 Americans identifies as Catholic.


--by Caroline Matas

Image Source: Catholics for Marriage Equality. Photo by Sam T, Flickr Creative Commons.