(The following three articles all come from The Tablet, an English Catholic magazine. For those who may wonder what the members of the Catholic Church “think”, they may prove interesting. M&J)
Linda Woodhead – The Tablet; 16/11/13
What it means to be a Catholic has changed. There is now significant disparity between older and younger believers. Over-60s fit a model closer to that officially promulgated by the Vatican, while under-50s believe, behave and belong in different ways. This is not a case of young people drifting away from the faith, but of them forging a new way of being Catholic. These are the findings of three major surveys into the beliefs and values of English, Scottish and Welsh Catholics, aged over 18.
The proportion of Catholics in the population remains fairly constant at around 8-10 per cent. Inward migration of Catholics has helped boost overall numbers, but the fact remains that when the 2011 census revealed a fall in the number who call themselves “Christian” – from 72 per cent to 59 per cent over a decade – it was Anglican, rather than Catholic, losses which were responsible.
Compared with only 62 per cent of Anglicans and 46 per cent of the general population, virtually all churchgoing Catholics believe in God, as do 70 per cent of Catholics in total. Four-fifths of Catholics aged over 60 believe, as do two-thirds in their 20s, 30s and 40s. So, Catholic young people are not becoming atheists in droves. What has changed is the certainty with which they believe: a third in their 20s say there is “definitely” a God, compared with 57 per cent of the over-60s…
Catholics also report a relatively high level of spiritual practice outside of a church context. Over 40 per cent say they have prayed during the past month, a fifth that they have visited places which feel sacred or holy, the same number that they have taken regular time to be alone and still the mind, and 8 per cent that they have meditated. More than one in 10 read sacred and spiritual writings on a monthly basis, and the same number report “feeling a deep connection with nature/the earth”. These figures are all higher than for the general population.
Regular churchgoing is holding up less well among younger Catholics. Although my surveys suggest a greater overall decline than previous polls have reported, the large sample size means the findings should be taken seri¬ously. They show that Catholics are now split roughly 50:50 between those who go to church and those who never go or hardly ever attend, except for events like weddings and funerals.
Over-60s are slightly more likely to attend than under-60s, but the most dramatic difference is in the pattern of attendance. Among churchgoers aged over 60, nearly 60 per cent retain a pattern of weekly attendance, whereas only around a quarter of under-60s church-goers do so. The most common pattern for the latter is less than monthly but at least once a year (e.g. for Christmas). The remainder say they attend on a monthly basis. So, among British Catholics as a whole, about one in three over-60s attend weekly, but only one in eight of those under 60.
It is also clear that few Catholics now think of themselves primarily as “religious”. A fifth describe themselves as such, a tenth as “spiritual” and another fifth as “both”. But the greatest proportion, one third, say: “I would not describe myself, or my values and beliefs, as spiritual or religious.” Just over half the British population say the same, with roughly the same proportions (a tenth) opting for “spiritual”, “religious” and “both”. Religion – by which most people understand official, institutional, religion – has become a rather toxic brand, especially among younger people.
When it comes to social justice, younger Catholics are more likely than older ones to be broadly in line with Catholic Social Teaching. As to politics, they are more centre- left than the general population, and noticeably more so than Anglicans. Although people’s voting intention fluctuates, the Catholics we sampled in June 2013 favoured Labour more strongly than the general population.
When we dig deeper into Catholics’ socio¬political values, we find that half are broadly supportive of the more left-wing concerns about social welfare and the common good, while less than a third support a more right- wing emphasis on welfare reform and individual responsibility. A fifth fall into a neutral category between the two. As such, Catholics are more likely to sympathise with the social values of The Guardian or the Daily Mirror than The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail. This concern with the common good is more pronounced among women, non- churchgoers and younger Catholics.
This concern with social justice and equality helps to explain why younger Catholics are also less obedient to official church teaching on issues of personal morality. In relation to same-sex marriage, for example, four-fifths invoke the principle of equality to explain why they disagree with the Church about its per¬missibility. As detailed last week, Catholics are now in favour of allowing same-sex marriage by a small margin, and the margin increases with every generation – though churchgoers are less favourable than non- churchgoers.
Another influential general principle is liberalism, where that is understood as the belief that individuals should be free to make up their own minds about issues which affect them personally (seeing them as a matter of individual conscience). Three-quarters of Catholics cite this principle to explain why their views diverge from the Church’s over euthanasia: our poll finds that a majority of all Catholics say the law should be changed to support assisted dying in tightly controlled circumstances. A majority of all Catholics are also in favour of allowing abortion. These views are increasing with every generation, including among churchgoers, even though fewer of the latter express liberal views.
There is little evidence that Catholic attitudes about these matters are more influenced by acceptance of teaching about natural law than anyone else’s. Even among those opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, fewer give as a reason that it’s “unnatural” than do opponents from other Christian denominations. However, Catholics are slightly more likely than other groups to say that human life begins at fertilisation.
Catholics have also strayed from magisterial teaching when it comes to the issue of authority itself. When asked where they look for guidance in living their life and making deci¬sions, over half of Catholics say their own reason, judgement, intuition or feelings, and another fifth say family or friends. More narrowly religious sources of authority are much less popular, even with churchgoers. The most cited is “tradition and teachings of the Church” (8 per cent), followed by God (7 per cent), the Bible (2 per cent), the religious group to which a person belongs (2 per cent), and reli¬gious leaders, local or national (0 per cent).
Among the minority of Catholics who attend church weekly, more are likely to cite tradition and teachings of the Church (23 per cent) and God (16 per cent ), but such churchgoers are similarly dismissive of the other traditional sources of religious authority. Here again, the age difference is striking: over-60s are twice as likely as under-50s to take authority from religious sources.
Overall then, British Catholics have moved further from a Vatican-approved model of a faithful Catholic with every generation. This does not mean that most have become secular, atheistic, or even non-Catholic – it means that they have become Catholic in a different way. They are much less likely to go to church every week and to think of themselves as “reli¬gious”. They are likely to support the Church’s social teachings, but are increasingly unlikely to support its natural-law-based teachings about sex, gender and the traditional family
Far from endorsing their Church’s highly critical remarks about mainstream “secular” culture, they actively embrace some aspects of its ethical progress, including its widening commitment to principles of human liberty and equality – albeit tempered by considerations of the common good.
The result is a Britain in which “faithful Catholics”, according to official teaching, are now a rare and endangered species. If we measure such a person by the criteria of weekly churchgoing, certain belief in God, taking authority from religious sources, and opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia, only 5 per cent of Catholics fit the mould, and only 2 per cent of those under 30.
Catholics, in other words, have come adrift from Roman Catholicism. The latter hold fast to a model they believe to be endangered and unchanging, while the former have forged a new way of being Catholic in the conditions of contemporary culture. From a sociological point of view, such a vast chasm between religious institution and religious people weakens both. From a human point of view, it is tragic for all involved.
Linda Woodhead is professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University and director of the Westminster Faith Debates.
The research reported here was generously funded by two of the UK’s research councils, designed by Linda Woodhead and administered by YouGov. The first surveys are available on the Westminster Faith Debates website (www.faithdebates.org.uk).
Three separate surveys were carried out in January and June 2013. Two are representative of adults aged 18 plus in Great Britain, excluding Northern Ireland. Each was completed by over 4,000 people, including 350 Catholics in the first and 260 in the second. They were supplemented by a third survey completed by a nationally representative sample of 1,062 Catholics.
CHURCH’S NEW FAITHFUL- Editorial
Any church programme designed to enliven the faith of the Catholic laity has to face an uncomfortable reality check. The great majority of lay Catholics in Britain are not anything like they are supposed to be. Even those who meet the minimum requirements laid down by the Catholic rule book, such as attendance at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, have in other respects deviated from the straight and narrow.
Catholics used to be familiar with a hard and fast distinction between “good Catholics” and “bad Catholics”, with the latter beyond the pale because of their disobedience and disloyalty, and the former strict in their pious observance even to the point of obsession. An extensive research project by Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University, details of which are published in this week’s Tablet, reveals that this distinction is melting away. If the old categories still applied, priests might well find that an average Sunday congregation consisted almost exclusively of “bad Catholics”.
Some priests who understand and accept this, and others in denial, refuse to notice that substantial numbers have left. But the research suggests that even the categories of “lapsed” and “practising” are no longer meaningful. Many Catholics attend Mass most weeks, while others do so monthly, some annually, some almost never. Some marry in church, while an increasing number prefer cohabitation or civil marriage. Are they all “lost sheep”? All those surveyed still identified as Catholics. They are all part of the family of the faithful. And in several respects, Professor Woodhead’s survey shows them to be still a distinct minority who differ in attitude and religious practice from the British population at large. What they do pick up from the majority, however, is a dislike at being thought “religious”.
Catholics still apply moral judgements to the issues they face, with social justice regularly trumping more “official” Catholic attitudes on such issues as gay marriage. Younger Catholics – whether weekly Mass attenders or not – particularly take the view that discrimination is always unjust and counts more heavily than the preservation of traditional marriage patterns. Similarly, respect for individual choice counts more heavily than official teaching when considering abortion or voluntary euthanasia.
What stands out from these findings is not an absence of moral values, but of values – such as respect for individual conscience that in other contexts Catholics have been taught to admire – being differently applied. There is a willingness to play down the official church line on sexual or “life” issues. The notion of a hierarchical Church with unique access to the truth through its Magisterium seems to be dying out.
There are the facts on the ground – the “smell of the sheep”, to use Pope Francis’ striking metaphor. Those involved in the huge investment in Catholic education should also be given pause for thought by this survey’s findings. The challenge to the Church is not necessarily how to reverse these trends, but how to understand what the Holy Spirit, which inspires and animates the whole body of the faithful, is trying to say by them.
- How must the institutional Church change if it is to move closer to its own people, and they to it?
- And what does it mean to be a “good Catholic” in 2013?
Minority of Catholics follow church teaching
New studies reveal that the days when the vast majority of Catholics attended Mass weekly and followed the official teachings of the Church are over, writes Paul Wilkinson.
“What it means to be But rather than turning away from the Church, recent surveys show that people are developing new patterns of Catholic belonging.a Catholic has changed,” says Linda Woodhead, professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University and director of the Westminster Faith Debates, who designed the surveys made earlier this year.
“British Catholics have moved further from a Vatican-approved model of a faithful Catholic with every generation,” she writes in The Tablet this week. “This doesn’t mean that most have become secular, atheistic, or even non-Catholic – it means that they have become Catholic in a different way.
Professor Woodhead argues that there is a significant disparity between older and younger believers, saying: “Over-60s fit a model of ‘What it is to be Catholic’ closer to that officially promulgated by the Vatican in the `Wojtyla¬Ratzinger’ era, whilst under-50s believe, behave, and belong in different ways.” Professor Woodhead created the three surveys to discover more about the beliefs of British Catholics. She found that while belief in God remains high, regular churchgoing among younger Catholics was declining.
Just over a third of all Catholics hardly or never attend services and only a fifth see themselves as “religious”. Her findings also show that zero per cent took guidance from religious leaders, national or local