Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Pew Survey’s Most Sobering Result

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 25, 2012

Now that a Pew Survey shows Catholics favoring Obama by a 15-point margin, it is time to point out what is truly significant about the survey results. It isn’t significant that those who attend Mass monthly or yearly favor Obama 53 to 39 percent or that those who attend Mass seldom or never favor him by a 61 to 32 percent margin. These things, based on a combination of demographics and obvious spiritual apathy are to be expected.

Catholics who attend Mass infrequently cannot be expected to make Catholic moral judgments or to be champions of Catholic independence from government coercion. Most of these Catholics will have inherited sympathies for the Democratic Party based on ethnic group, family tradition or liberal media myths (Democrats care about people, Republicans don’t). They are almost inevitably influenced more by these attachments than by either coherent moral analysis or the needs and interests of their Church.

No, the most damning result of the poll is that Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly favor Mitt Romney by only nine percent (51 to 42). This compares with nearly a 30 point gap the other way for those who attend Mass very rarely or not at all. Why isn’t there a comparable gap against Obama by regularly practicing Catholics? This represents a colossal Catholic failure.

Obviously, one can allow for a certain apathy here. Mitt Romney does not impress voters as a man who has either a moral or a political clue. His position on abortion and related issues is confused and, as far as anyone can tell, self-serving. His ability to project a serious love and concern for our nation and its people ranges from weak to non-existent. He stumbles and backtracks constantly. While there are many excellent moral reasons to vote against Barack Obama, there are few excellent moral reasons to vote for Mitt Romney. Moreover, there is always a strong reluctance on the part of those who depend on Federal largesse to admit the dangers of Federal power, a factor which minimizes support for Republican budget proposals.

But there is one huge issue that separates Obama and Romney, and it is the same issue which has been most forcefully identified by the country’s bishops—the HHS Mandate. Obama is the architect of a law which forces Catholic organizations and individuals to financially support contraception, sterilization and abortion despite the Church’s teaching that it is deeply sinful to do so. In a similar way, Obama is the architect of policies which exclude Catholic organizations from traditional roles in social services because they will not do things like provide abortion referrals, recommend contraception, or facilitate adoptions for same-sex couples. But Romney has pledged to eliminate the HHS mandate immediately upon election, and has shown no propensity to continue Obama’s ideological exclusion of Catholic participation in public life.

Now, the American bishops have clearly identified the HHS mandate as a gross abrogation of religious liberty, and they have made it clear this violation is a key Catholic concern in the current campaign, the kind of concern that would prompt anybody with profound Catholic sympathies to vote against the Democrats. And yet only 51 percent of regular Catholic churchgoers state that they are willing to do so. This failure of churchgoing Catholics to defend their own religious freedom and the rights of the Church is the most significant revelation in the Pew poll.

There are, of course, several critical factors which work against the bishops here. First, with respect to doctrinal orthodoxy and Catholic identity, episcopal leadership has been notoriously weak and even directly counter-productive over the past fifty years. The American bishops have presided over a national, diocesan and parish infrastructure riddled with Modernism. They have been largely idle in the face of an abject secularization of Catholic colleges and universities. They have not worked to counter the loss of ecclesial fidelity in the nation’s religious communities. And they have done almost nothing to combat the universal acceptance of contraception which lies at the heart of the culture of death—and which makes the HHS Mandate seem innocuous.

Second, as Phil Lawler has pointed out several times (see, for example, The noise-to-signal ratio at the USCCB), while the bishops have spoken out strongly on religious liberty, they have spoken out again and again on so many other purely prudential topics that their concerns about religious liberty have been far too easily ignored. Third, even the Fortnight for Freedom campaign was not implemented evenly across the country. There is still sufficient squishiness within the ranks for recalcitrant bishops and pastors to have ignored it, or for its message to go by without reinforcement.

For all these reasons, the American bishops have a long way to go before they will be able, over time, to effectively form the consciences of American Catholics. We are at the beginning of a long, slow and painful episcopal renewal in this country, not near the end. The episcopal renewal will take even longer to bring renewal across the board, in all the structures and sub-institutions which shape American Catholic life, and in the laity themselves. Therefore, we can only wonder how much further religious liberty will suffer in American politics while the renewal develops—and whether increasing persecution will strengthen or weaken the Church overall. The latest Pew survey is a reminder of this one essential fact: We are not at the end of a process here. We are at the beginning.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: MikeWetzel - Feb. 04, 2018 6:56 PM ET USA

    Any reason to make a reassessment on this matter in February 2018? I attend St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, SC. We had a visiting priest who was also a former assistant pastor in the parish a decade ago. During the end two years of the Obama years he warned the faithful in the pews of a coming persecution of the Church based upon the Obama administration's blatant hostility toward the Catholic Church. I largely blame the bishops for moral cowardice and gross inattention to catechesis

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 29, 2012 3:48 PM ET USA

    Contrary, this is a matter of voting for the many not just for the one. I agree MRs track record in Mass. is abysmal. On the other hand, can 4 years of MR be really worse than another 4 with BHO? Not voting clearing establishes the importance of principle. Voting BHO out clearly establishes a step toward making our society and country as place where God is recognized and respected. Make no mistake, BHO is set on redefining freedom and America. This cannot be tolerated.

  • Posted by: martin.kurlich4399 - Sep. 28, 2012 1:20 AM ET USA

    Let me be clear: Not voting, or not voting for Mitt Romney, is a clear vote FOR Barack Obama – the Obama for whom, I agree, there are many excellent moral reasons to vote against. Let me be even more clear: If Mickey, not Mitt, was Obama’s challenger, I’d go with the Mouse. And I believe it would be gravely and morally objectionable not to.

  • Posted by: martin.kurlich4399 - Sep. 27, 2012 4:04 PM ET USA

    Jeff, You write “While there are many excellent moral reasons to vote against Barack Obama, there are few excellent moral reasons to vote for Mitt Romney.” This strikes me as the type of ambiguous statement I would expect to see in the USCCB’s voter guide “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (sans the candidates' names).

  • Posted by: - Sep. 26, 2012 3:13 PM ET USA

    By "a colossal Catholic failure" you were politely saying "a colossal episcopal failure," right? We have the cowardly bishops, the homosexual-tolerant bishops, the go-with-the-USCCB-leftist-flow bishops, the let's-not-be-confrontational bishops, and the protect-the- image-of-the-institutional-Church-at-any-cost bishops and an entertainer archbishop. Not much left. The Church in the US is without leadership.

  • Posted by: rdubin1661 - Sep. 26, 2012 2:59 PM ET USA

    Please review the comments by Bishop Paprocki. He cuts to the chase: the Democratic platform endorses intrinsic evils; the Republican platform does not. I wonder if some expect politicians to be better than the guy in the mirror. I don't. Clearly, the future of the country, AND the Church, will be a lot worse with 4 more years of Obama. Romney isn't perfect (who the heck is?), just much, much better.

  • Posted by: rdubin1661 - Sep. 26, 2012 2:40 PM ET USA

    In all things, consider the SOURCE. Polls, more than ever, are being used this cycle to depress the conservative vote—they in themselves are functioning as attack ads. The Pew Poll specifically has been blasted (by Doug Schoen, a Democratic pollster, no less) for its late August poll showing Obama with a 10 pt. lead over Romney; worse, Pew polls have consistently shown Obama leading by an avg. of 12 points over the past six months. Personally, I don't believe this poll or ANY poll from Pew.

  • Posted by: FredC - Sep. 26, 2012 12:37 PM ET USA

    Not only must many bishops be replaced or reformed, much of the existing staff must be replaced or reformed. Obama's persecution of the Church may well provide the necessary pruning.

  • Posted by: unum - Sep. 26, 2012 8:52 AM ET USA

    I would express the problem a little differently. I believe the U.S. Catholic bishops have squandered any moral authority they once had. Both their handling of the abuse crisis and their willingness to subcontract social justice programs to a pagan federal government have cost the bishops any credibility they once had. The bishops must reestablish credibility and reconnect with the faithful before their words have any effect.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 26, 2012 7:48 AM ET USA

    Even if this election goes Republican, and the HHS mandate is overturned, there is so much air let out of the balloon that is the American Catholic Church, it's gonna take an act of God to pump it up and get it flying again. Lord have mercy on us as we place our trust in You. Give us faithful bishops.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Sep. 26, 2012 12:02 AM ET USA

    I suspect that if you counted only practicing Catholics as Catholics, then Catholics would be the smallest denomination in the country and perhaps the world. "Many are called, but few are chosen."

  • Posted by: - Sep. 25, 2012 11:19 PM ET USA

    Only when the Bishops realize that they have a responsibility to enforce Church dogma and teachings can there be real change in the hearts and minds of Catholics. If the Bishops want to change this malaise then they have to accept that their job goes beyond merely teaching and serving as figure heads. It is time for the Bishops to take charge and begin enforcing the rules. Strike one – public warning. Strike two – suspension of receiving holy communion. Strike three – separation from the Church and stripped from being considered a Catholic in good standing.

  • Posted by: meegan2136289 - Sep. 25, 2012 8:41 PM ET USA

    I would beg Contrary1995 and any others who (understandably) feel the same way to reconsider. I too am from MA and while I forget the details now, I recall feeling betrayed by Mitt Romney on the marriage issue. Agreed that he is a far-from-ideal candidate. However, a non-vote is a vote for the incumbent and by extension in this case, the HHS Mandate. I guess I'm at a loss then as to how Obama would be better than Romney, esp with faithful Catholic Paul Ryan on the ticket...

  • Posted by: joancollins507161 - Sep. 25, 2012 6:22 PM ET USA

    Catholics will not wake up until all of their religious freedom is taken from them, or maybe they don't care enough about their faith that that would even matter. Barack Obama voted against a law to protect babies born after botched abortions, favors homosexual marriage, and will appoint Supreme Court justices that agree with him. Heaven help us.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Sep. 25, 2012 5:56 PM ET USA

    @Contrary1995--I looked closely at the Presidential candidates this year. All of them without exception were seriously flawed, if not on life issues, then on matters of intimate character. Comparing the Republican candidate to Obama--who uses his excommunicated surrogate to persecute Catholics--left little doubt in my mind as to the appropriate option. I am not married to the Republican party, but given that Satan has entered the Democrats, that's how I plan to vote.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Sep. 25, 2012 5:30 PM ET USA

    In response to AnnH: Aaaargh!!! Yes, it should! I've made the correction. Thanks!

  • Posted by: AnnH - Sep. 25, 2012 5:28 PM ET USA

    Shouldn't "seldom or often" in the first paragraph read "seldom or never"?

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Sep. 25, 2012 5:27 PM ET USA

    In response to Contrary1995, a clarification: I am less concerned about an unwillingness to vote for Romney than the willingness to vote for Obama. Without debating the relative merits of not voting vs. voting, I agree that a morally responsible option is, as Contrary1995 says, to leave the presidential line blank.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Sep. 25, 2012 4:40 PM ET USA

    It is possible to oppose the HHS Mandate and vote for Obama. I am not among this number, but I also plan on leaving the presidential line of the ballot blank. I would not vote for Mitt Romney for anything: I live in Massachusetts and saw him up close. We must NOT link faith issues to one candidate or party. Obama is horribly wrong about Life issues, but Romney is not a positive viable alternative to me and I plan on continuing taking communion. Voting involves a matter of prudential judgment.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Sep. 25, 2012 2:39 PM ET USA

    In my own parish, members of Parish Council, volunteers and active parishioners of all stripes take an extremely casual attitude toward authentic Catholic teaching. Previous "Pastoral Administrators" have led them into sin, and now the current pastors take no action to admonish the faithful. We have a lot more pain to face before Catholics, let alone Americans, see an about-face.