Essay: The researchers behind Young Catholic America underestimate young Catholics' understanding of some very basic Catholic issues.
Our research team has now carried out the fifth survey of American Catholics. The first survey, done just after Easter in 1987 and in anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s second visit to the United States, was designed with the hope that our bishops and the pope would find value in a demographic profile of American Catholics as well as a sketch of their beliefs, practices and attitudes.
A growing body of literature in sociology has shown that experiences during individuals’ formative years, especially traumatic events such as wars, the Great Depression, tsunamis and other disasters, produce cultural and structural patterns within the particular period that set apart those who have lived through them from other generations. We applied this idea to Roman Catholics in the United States, because there are important historical events that demarcate distinct Catholic generations, with the Second Vatican Council as the major divide in the recent history of the church. It made sense to distinguish among three distinctive generations of Catholics: pre-Vatican II, Vatican II and post-Vatican II Catholics. The differences we found from our surveys of 1987 and 1993 led us to expect that the generations would continue to have different beliefs, practices and attitudes toward the church throughout their lives, even when they were at the same age or stage in life as the generations immediately before and after them. Our five surveys over 25 years enable us to test that expectation.
Reports in the media based on national surveys in recent years indicate that voters see Republicans as more religious, or friendlier to religion than Democrats, in particular because of their support for core moral values centering on human sexuality and family life. Our survey provides an opportunity to see whether and how Catholics who are Democrats or Republicans vary in their religious practices and in moral and political attitudes.