Counting Catholics: Several pollsters ask people to name the faith in which they were raised and then ask them whether they still describe themselves as members of that faith. In its February 2008 US Religious Landscape survey, the Pew Research Center reported that although Catholics have maintained their share of the population at around 25%, the Church has lost considerable membership. “Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.” What’s keeping the overall number up is the influx of immigrants, especially Hispanics. Latinos are now about a third of all Catholics. They make up nearly half of all young Catholics, as a new Gallup poll shows, and 61% of Hispanics age 65 and older.
In the 2008 Pew survey, 31% said they had been raised Catholic and 24% said they were currently Catholic. A more recent survey from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found almost identical numbers: While 31% of Americans reported that they were raised Catholic, only 22% currently identify themselves as Catholic. In a separate PRRI survey, 28% of 18-to-24 year olds listed Catholicism as their childhood religion, although only 20% described it as their current religion.
Opinions of the Catholic Church: Sixty-two percent nationally (and 86% of Catholics) have a favorable opinion of the Catholic Church in the new ABC News/Washington Post poll. In December 2002, after an early 2002 Boston Globe series triggered many stories about sexual abuse by priests, the church reached a low in favorability nationally (40%) and among Catholics (69%).
Pope Benedict XVI: Pew notes that while a large majority of Catholics (74%) have a favorable opinion of Pope Benedict, even more (93% in June 1996) had a favorable opinion of Pope John Paul II. In a new NBC/WSJ poll, 30% of Americans had a positive impression of Pope Benedict, 42% a neutral impression, and 17% had a negative one.
Roughly equal numbers nationally (64%) and Catholics (69%) in the ABC/Post poll approve of Pope Benedict decision to step down.
The next pope: In the new Economist poll, 43% said it doesn’t matter where the next Pope comes from and 29% didn’t have an opinion. Fifteen percent said they would like an American pope.
New directions?: Forty-six percent of Catholics in Pew’s new poll want the next pope to move the church in new directions, while 51% want him to maintain the traditional positions of the Church. In a follow-up question, when Catholics were asked what those new directions should be, the top responses were “becoming more modern” (19%), getting tougher with abusers (15%), allowing priest to marry and becoming more accepting or open (14% each), and “becoming more accepting of homosexuality” (9%).
In a 2012 PRRI survey, 42% of Catholics said the church should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices while 53% said it should adjust traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances and adopt modern beliefs and practices. Not surprisingly, those who attended church more often sided with preserving traditional practices.
Policy priorities: PRRI reports that more than 6 in 10 Catholics agree that the Catholic Church should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right-to-life. Around one-third of Catholics preferred the opposite, focusing on issues like abortion and right-to-life. Among Catholics who attend church weekly, a slim majority (51%) maintained the preference for social justice and helping the poor.