Catholic World News News Feature
British Priests Do Not Believe in Traditional Moral Teaching April 07, 2003
The majority of Catholic priests in England and Wales do not support the Church's teachings on artificial contraception, claims a new study.
The poll also found that a quarter of priests no longer believe there is a need for chastity. More than half (61 percent) believe that sex with a married woman should not debar priests from active ministry and 21 percent argue that practicing homosexuals should not be barred from the priesthood.
The poll of 1,482 priests-- almost half of the priests in England and Wales-- was conducted by Msgr. Stephen Louden, a priest from the Liverpool Archdiocese, and Leslie Francis, a professor of pastoral theology at the University of Wales.
Questionnaires were originally sent out in 1996 to all 3,581 secular and regular Catholic priests serving in parochial appointments in England and Wales. Almost half the priests responded, making it the largest survey of its kind.
The survey claimed 43 percent of the priests questioned actively opposed the Church's teachings on artificial contraception, while a further 19 percent were unsure whether to support the doctrine.
Perhaps more worrying was the fact that one in 10 felt that pedophilia should not rule out priests from active ministry.
Francis told the Sunday Telegraph , "This contains potentially explosive information for the Catholic Church. It is a very, very interesting document."
The results, which will be published in September by Continuum Books under the title The Naked Parish Priest , also reveal an increasingly liberal trend among younger priests.
The report concludes, "The greater acceptance of homosexuality among the youngest cohort of priests may simply indicate a greater willingness to accept alternative sexualities, or it may indicate a higher predisposition towards homosexuality among the younger priests themselves."
A quarter of those surveyed said that they believed that a woman could be ordained a bishop, despite the Church's clear ruling on the issue of women priests.
A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales questioned the methodology of the survey. He told the Sunday Telegraph , that the questions were "very general and, on occasions, confused and confusing to the respondents."
He added, "The statistical findings of this book must be treated with great caution and cannot be seen as a true reflection of the current beliefs of priests in England and Wales."
Father Shaun Middleton, a spokesman for the National Conference of Priests, told the newspaper, "I have some serious questions about the methodology and sample base that was used for this work. A number of areas highlighted give priests cause for reflection."
He added, "However, I do not think the views contained in The Naked Parish Priest can be taken as normative. In my opinion, they do not reflect the views held by the majority of priests working in England and Wales."