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A new global poll surveying the world’s Catholics finds that most of them don’t agree with the Church’s strict positions on issues of reproductive health. Specifically, most Catholics around the world actually support birth control and abortion rights — two “family values” issues that the Catholic hierarchy opposes. Despite the split between Catholic teaching and Catholic congregants, Church officials have fought hard to enshrine their position into legislation.
According to the new poll, which was conducted by the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision, Catholics break most sharply from Church teaching on the issue of contraception. Seventy eight percent of Catholics across all countries surveyed said they support the use of modern birth control. That number rises even further among residents of European and Latin American countries, where Catholics tend to be more liberal than their counterparts in African countries. Over 90 percent of Catholics in France, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, and Colombia have no problem with birth control.
A smaller majority of respondents also expressed opposition to the Church’s stringent anti-choice stance. Sixty five percent of surveyed Catholics said that abortion should be legal in some cases.
Univision’s findings echo the preliminary results from a global survey of Catholics that Pope Francis commissioned this past fall. Francis wanted to see what Catholics really think about birth control, same-sex marriage, and divorce — and so far, the results coming out of Germany and Switzerland signal a similar gulf between the hierarchy and the laypeople. The vast majority of Catholics in those countries reject Church teaching on birth control, sexual morality, and LGBT rights. In light of the survey results, Swiss bishops warned that the Church’s very mission is being “threatened” by its insistence on staking out a stringently conservative stance on these issues.
Here in the United States, Catholic bishops continue to fight against birth control access and abortion rights, even though most American Catholics think birth control is morally acceptable and support a woman’s right to choose. Catholics for Choice, an international reproductive rights organization that has been very active in efforts to oppose anti-choice legislation, has repeatedly pointed out that the Church hierarchy doesn’t speak for all religious people.
“Bishops across the world have failed to convince lay Catholics to conform to teachings on issues like sex, sexuality, family life and reproduction,” Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, pointed out in a statement about Francis’ ongoing survey. “The reality is Catholics are gay and lesbian, Catholics use birth control and Catholics have abortions. It’s time for the Vatican to go back to the drawing board.”
Although Francis has made no moves to change Church doctrine on these topics — and has reiterated his opposition to abortion several times over the past year — he has indicated a willingness to slowly shift the Church’s tone. In September, Francis said that Catholic leaders need to “find a new balance” on issues of sexual morality, and has historically been too “obsessed” with efforts to oppose contraception and abortion. The final results from his survey may have an impact on an upcoming “extraordinary synod,” a gathering of select bishops that will consider Church teaching’s impact on family life.