Poll: Push-back strong against church’s stance on social issues

Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States less than two weeks from now comes as Roman Catholicism is losing some of its hold among young Americans, a new national survey finds, and when many Catholics at least partly disagree with their church on a broad array of family teachings.

With more than a quarter of American Catholics divorced, and 44 percent reporting they have cohabited with a romantic partner without being married, “most American Catholics are comfortable with family arrangements that have been traditionally frowned upon by the church,” according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

A majority of U.S. Catholics “say it is at least ‘acceptable’ … for children to be raised by unmarried parents, gay or lesbian parents, single parents or divorced parents,” Pew reported.

The extensive findings suggest that the Catholic Church in the United States could benefit from Francis’ inclusive style of evangelization, notable for its outreach to those who feel marginalized.

The Rev. Clem Davis, longtime pastor of Columbus’ St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, has long been vocal about the church’s need to extend the same love and compassion to same-sex partners as anyone else. He also has included them as ones he often feels are marginalized in today’s society.

“And in the gospels, I notice the marginalized got the most attention from Jesus,” Davis said. “Remember that Gentiles were considered dogs in Jesus’ time, but he purposely spent time among them.”

Davis recalled the movie, “The Imitation Game,” in which the main character during World War II covers his sexuality out of fear.

“I think there is a rejection (among Catholics) of that kind of knee-jerk condemnation of any people,” Davis said. “And there is an increased public realization that these people came from our own families. They didn’t land here from another planet. And they haven’t been swept ashore by some storm.

“They grew up in our own neighborhoods.”

But Davis was careful to say that he is in no position to offer a personal opinion on a subject such as gay marriage, since he sees his calling as administering the sacraments as the church prescribes.

On the other hand, cohabitation among Catholics and others has been more out in the open, as the clergyman sees it.

“I think a lot more families have become accepting (of cohabitation), even though the church still does not think it’s a good idea and frowns upon it,” Davis said. “Of the couples I speak with, many of the girls tell me their parents ‘would rather I live with someone who loves and protects me rather than facing the idea of living away from home all by myself.’

“Some parents (of girls) now think of it almost like a safety issue.”

About three-fourths of former Catholics and marginal or “cultural” Catholics view Francis as “compassionate, humble and open-minded,” the Pew study showed.

After stops in Washington, D.C., and New York City, Francis visits Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27 as a conclusion to the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families, which opens Sept. 22.

In mid-October, Francis will convene hundreds of bishops from around the world to a Synod on the Family in Rome, to discuss ways the church can better serve or welcome irregular family arrangements. Francis recently signaled his intention to draw still more back into the fold with his announcement that for a year, women who have had abortions may seek forgiveness from a priest, and then receive Communion, without having to seek reinstatement from a bishop, as some dioceses require.

Among the synod topics is whether the church should : or even can : allow divorced and remarried people who have not won annulments to receive Communion, from which they are now barred.

— Staff and wire reports

By the numbers

Some numbers from a new poll on Catholicism by the Pew Research Center.

84: Percentage believing it’s OK for unmarried couples to raise children

43: Percentage viewing gay or lesbian couple just as any other family

90: Percentage believing that a man and woman married to each other forms the ideal family

60: Percentage viewing abortion as morally wrong