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April 04, 2005

The Catholic Church Is Not A Democracy

That’s why I find this poll to be more than a little bit absurd.


The U.S. Catholic church is struggling with a variety of problems, including a dramatically shrinking U.S. priesthood, disagreement over the proper role for lay leaders, and a conservative-liberal divide over sexuality, women's ordination and clergy celibacy.

About two-thirds of those polled, 69 percent, said priests should be allowed to marry and almost that many, 64 percent, said they want women in the priesthood. Six in 10 Catholics supported each of those steps.

More than four in five Americans — and about the same number of Catholics — said they want to see the next pope do more to address the problem of priests sexually abusing children.

The church has been trying to deal with an abuse crisis that bubbled to the surface in January 2002 in the Archdiocese of Boston, then spread throughout the country. Since then, the church has adopted a toughened discipline policy, enacted child protection and victim outreach plans in dioceses, and removed hundreds of accused priests from church work.

Americans were divided when asked from where the next pope should come. Just over a third said he should be from Europe, while a similar number said he should be from a part of the world where Catholicism is growing fastest, like Africa or Latin America. The rest weren't sure.

First, the poll does not limit itself to Catholics only. In that regard, it is somewhat insulting. Could you imagine a survey of all Americans regarding whether Jews should change the rules on what is kosher to include pork? But beyond that, I would be curious to find out how many of the “Catholics” were actually practicing Catholics. My guess would be no more than 10% of those included in the sample were actually baptized Catholics who have set foot in a Catholic Church for anything other than Easter, Christmas, weddings, and funerals during the last 12 months. In other words, why should we care what 90% of these people think on issues related to the Catholic Church.

Second, the Catholic Church is not run based upon opinion polls and focus groups. It doesn’t matter how many folks in the US think the Pope should come from the Third World, Europe, or Sheboygan, Wisconsin. And given that Americans are a relatively small subset of the Church, the opinions of Americans are not highly relevant.

Still, an exercise like this one could be interesting if done right. You know, if they had surveyed Catholics about their views on Catholicism. Not that it would have had any impact on who or how the new pope would be chosen.





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