Old News

(Deal Hudson is editor and publisher of CRISIS, America's fastest growing Catholic magazine. He is also an advisor to President Bush. You can reach Deal at hudson@crisismagazine.com.)

Pollsters have been getting results like that for years when they ignore the distinction between Catholics who go to Mass regularly and those who do not.

Three years ago the magazine I publish — Crisis Magazine — conducted a similar survey, except we made the distinction between religiously active and inactive Catholics central to our findings. Guess what? We found that Catholics who attend Mass weekly have a significantly different attitude profile from those who do not — especially on issues like contraception, abortion, the male priesthood, etc.

We also found a clear correlation between Mass attendance and the steady migration of Catholics toward the middle and right of the political spectrum. Zogby’s raw number of the percentage of self-identified (not religiously active!) Catholics who identify with the Democratic or Republican Party is simply old news and ignores the real story.

For example, if only 31% of self-identified Catholics identify with the Republican Party, how does Zogby explain the 47% of Catholics who voted for Bush in the 2000 election? And, of course, he ignores the more significant number — the 56% of religiously active Catholics who voted for Bush.

The Crisis Catholic vote survey received wide comment in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. Reporters fastened on the distinction between self-identified Catholics and religiously active Catholics, while veteran commentators like Robert Novak and Michael Barone applauded the work.

The only negative voice came from Fr. Andrew Greeley in America Magazine (Jesuit) who complained that the Crisis survey was wrong to use Mass attendance as the sole criteria of religious activism. What Fr. Greeley had in mind he did not say.

Perhaps Fr. Greeley, John Zogby, and the scholars at Le Moyne think it is important to include Catholics who never go to Mass in their study for evangelical reasons — to find out how they can be reached with Church teaching. The comment made by William Barnett, a professor of religious studies at Le Moyne, suggests otherwise: “People like the pope, but don’t want the pope telling them what to do in the bedroom.” Indeed, all the news coverage based upon the Zogby survey underscored the gap between “Catholics” and the Holy Father on key issues.

Zogby is well aware that Mass attendance makes a big difference in polling Catholics, and has said so. Yet, for whatever reason, he keeps those findings to himself, except on the issue of the death penalty. This is a pity because observing the widening gap between religiously active and inactive Catholics provides a story of a hope for the Church — participation in the sacramental life of the Church makes a substantial difference on a person’s values and beliefs.

Certainly there is importance in knowing what inactive Catholics are thinking, but by mixing their data in with those who regularly encounter the Word of God only creates confusion and ambiguity where there should be as much clarity and truth as possible.

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