Numbers don’t always tell the story…

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The Citizen remembers his statistics course. On the first day, the professor announced that in the right hands, numbers can be made to say anything. A recent Gallup poll indicated that Catholics overwhelmingly support the President. The report further asserted that they could conclude that in the case of the Notre Dame ‘controversy’ does not “…seem not to resonate with rank-and-file Catholics, most of whom approve of Obama’s job performance to date.” I would argue that the sheer number of signatures the Cardinal Newman Society collected contradicts this assertion. I would further argue that the very conclusion is speculative at best. A more disturbing interpretation exists. The Gallup analysis and report is correct. The data is accurate and reflects the perspective of Catholics on their support of this president and on social and political issues that are significant to the church. And the number of Catholics who report positions contrary to the Magisterium is disturbing to say the least.

The most troubling graphic is one that breaks Catholics down by attendance. Of 24,000 Catholics surveyed, the data indicates that there is a significant amount of support for President Obama. The data they collected led them to conclude that Obama has an “untarnished image” among Catholics – save for the ‘Conservative’ Catholics. I find fault with the hyperbole – untarnished image? Hardly. The fact remains that even considering a significant margin of error, more than half of the Catholics surveyed reported approving of the President. This is despite his threatened revocation of the HHS conscience clause. Despite his strong pro-abortion policies. Despite his appointment of liberal, secular candidates  – including some who have openly and insultingly criticized the Catholic church. Despite the appalling lack of responsible stewardship of our money – three trillion dollars in a hundred days is a lot of money. Where can the blame be laid for these results – assuming that the methodology is sound?  If Gallup is close to right, then the blame lies in the failing of Catholics to understand the Magisterium and the failure of our priests and bishops to make these teachings perfectly clear.

The Citizen has written extensively on Abortion and the Church’s teachings on this issue. For some reason, the Church has been reluctant to be clear on this issue. The Citizen has participated in two 40 Days for Life vigils and is amazed at the reluctance of parishioners and some of the clergy to embrace this movement. If our priests and bishops are not being clear on the position of the church, then it is not surprising that there are people who are not clear on this issue. The Church must be clear on this issue. The failure of the Church to instruct the Faithful is the reason why these numbers are high.

There are a number of issues that are important to Catholics. The President has spoken extensively on his desire to work on issues of interest to many Catholics – and there are certainly some worthy issues. Many Catholics have had problems with the Iraq War – the Citizen is working on an essay on Just War that will explain war. Whether we wish to call it ‘enhanced interrogation’ or ‘torture’, this administration has drummed up humanitarian support by promoting this issue.  The cynical side of the Citizen notes that this sensitive issue rears up just before the ‘100 Days’ mark. Poverty, health care reform, and immigration are also important issues. While the administration – with control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of government – have ambitious and expensive plans, we have not seen any real action. But they have ‘talked a good game.’ If you were to Google Catholic sites, you will see a number of sites that support the administration on the basis that many of the planned actions are in line with Catholic teachings. Unfortunately, these sites neglect to inform their visitors that their support is likely to lead them into heresy. For more on this, read ‘Why Catholic is more than Just a Box to Check’. The combination of a failure of our clergy to clearly articulate the Magisterium, the proliferation of a flock of liberal ‘Catholic’ intellectuals, and sites like Catholic Alliance and Catholics United have led to what Gallup has identified as some very confused Catholics.  And it is a serious problem.  For those 65% who claim to go to church every week, there is some point when they affirm that they believe in “…one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Perhaps this is just something that people say without thought, but this is an important element of the Nicene Creed. This statement confirms that you believe that the Church’s authority is something that we accept. This includes the teachings of the Church – the Magisterium. The Catholic Church is not a smorgasbord – you cannot pick and choose what you want to believe. This oath that we affirm at Mass every week binds us – in and out of church. Our personal, social, and civic practices and policies should be shaped by this creed. Those who fail to live up to this bargain are in doctrinal error – a nice way of saying heresy.

Social issues are important to Catholics. Another graphic from Gallup illustrates Catholic beliefs on ISSUES and not personality. It is interesting to see that when we look at abortion alone, regular church-going Catholics have a 24% approval rating on the issue. Non-church going Catholics are twice as likely to view abortion as an acceptable practice. Very surprising is the response for embryonic stem cell research. Again, I must regrettably lay the blame for this at the feet of our priests and bishops. Where do people think embryonic stem cells come from? How can you have 24% of practicing Catholics support abortion and 53% support embryonic stem cell research? This makes no sense and demonstrates ignorance of the issue of stem cell research. Either that or the Gallup poll is significantly flawed. I would – reluctantly – wager the the first is likely the culprit. The media has downplayed the successes of adult stem cell research and trumpeted the non-existent virtues of embryonic stem cell research relentlessly. If our homilists are not taking every available opportunity to counter these falsehoods, then regular church-going Catholics are not going to fully understand the significance of their acceptance of embryonic stem cell research.  While the first graph I’ve showed raises some questions, this one is a clear indictment that the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States needs to re-evaluate their practices. It is disheartening to see that large numbers of regular churchgoers indicate substantial approval ratings concerning the death penalty, divorce, and premarital sex. It seems that a lot of non-Catholic clergy are doing a better job teaching their faithful on these issues. The Catholic church needs to examine why we are falling short on these issues. Equally troubling is the acceptance of homosexual relations. While I am not condemning homosexuals as individuals, the spate of same-sex marriage legislation mandates that Catholics understand the Church’s stance on homosexual relationships. The priest abuse scandals – many of them homosexual in nature – requires our church leadership to candidly and frankly address the scandals, the church’s failure to address them, and the doctrine concerning homosexuality. I believe that some of the seeming paralysis of our leadership may stem from their reluctance to confront this painful chapter in the Church in America.

Of course – as I have alluded in the introduction – that this data is accurate. Respondents could have lied, they could have exaggerated. For many Catholics, religion is merely something that is checked off in surveys or other forms. As a lifelong Catholics and seeing the empirical evidence of Catholic support for a presidential candidate that campaigned on several issues contrary to Catholic doctrine indicates that this poll may be a fair instrument. I believe that the leadership of the Catholic church in the United States certainly needs to work on the assumption that this is an accurate snapshot of Catholic positions on these issues. Our Faith – and the souls of our wayward brethren depend on it.

On a positive note, there does seem to be a growing response to what devout Catholics would consider to be outrages. We are speaking out, using the ‘new media’ of blogs and social networks to share ideas, create networks, and – hopefully – organize. We have at our hands the ability to use the tools that the Obama campaign used to promote their agenda to promote our agenda. We need to continue to write, to discuss, to debate, and to organize. We must develop the tools and the tactics that we need to be successful in restoring our rightful place at the table.


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