Survey says global church divided on major issues

by Stephanie Yeagle

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It seems the only thing the global Catholic church can agree on is that Pope Francis has been doing an excellent or good job since he was elected last March.

A survey released in February, managed by Univision, shows a divided church on six major topics facing Catholics today. More than 12,000 Catholics from five continents and 12 countries answered the questions in the survey conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International.

Europe, Latin America and the United States are on one side of all six issues while Africa and the Philippines stand on the other side.

But 87 percent of the global responders agreed that Francis is doing an excellent or good job; 89 percent in Europe and the U.S., 88 percent in Latin America, 85 percent in Africa and 82 percent in the Philippines.

The question of gay marriage was the most divisive. The respondents were asked if they support or oppose marriage between two persons of the same sex, and globally, 66 percent were opposed. Ninety-nine percent of those surveyed in Africa opposed gay marriage while 54 percent in the U.S. support it. Thirty-eight percent in Europe support the issue, along with 37 percent in Latin America. Eighty-four percent in the Philippines oppose gay marriage.

Overall, five percent more women, 10 percent more upper- and upper-middle-class members and 18 percent more young people (ages 18-34) are in favor of gay marriage. Those that support the issue were also asked if the Catholic church should perform same-sex marriages, but over half said no.

Over 50 percent of Europe (70 percent), Latin America (53 percent) and U.S. (61 percent) responders agreed Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, while over 70 percent in Africa and the Philippines disagreed. Globally, the issue was split, with 50 percent saying yes and 47 percent saying no. Undecided or other answers were not published in the survey results.

The global Catholic church was also split about whether women should be allowed to become priests. Overall, 51 percent said no, with Africa leading the votes with 80 percent, followed by the Philippines with 76 percent. Europe had the most respondents in support of women priests with 64 percent, followed by the U.S. with 59 percent.

In every continent but Africa, men were more in favor of women becoming priests than women were. For example, in the United States, 61 percent of men surveyed agreed women should become priests, compared to 58 percent of women.

On the question of divorce, whether those that have been divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic church are living in sin, the majority of responders in Europe, Latin America and the U.S. disagreed with the statement, while the majority of those in Africa and the Philippines agreed.

More than 60 percent of Europe, Latin America and the U.S. respondents said abortions should be allowed in some cases, such as when the life of the mother is in danger. Over 60 percent of those surveyed in Africa and the Philippines said that abortion should not be allowed at all. Europe had the most respondents in favor of abortion in all cases with 20 percent, followed by the U.S. with 10 percent.

Seventy-eight percent across the globe support the use of contraceptives, with Latin America leading the way with 91 percent, followed by Europe with 86 percent and the U.S. with 79 percent. Forty-four percent in Africa are also in support of contraceptives, while only 31 percent are in favor from the Philippines.

Those that responded most in line with church teaching are at least 55 years old, married men and women who live in small, rural areas and attend Mass regularly.

The U.S. had the biggest difference in responses between socioeconomic classes (lower, middle and upper/upper middle), with around 20-25 percent more people in the lower class agreeing with church opinion compared to upper- and upper-middle classes.

Differences between the generations were most obvious in Colombia, Mexico, Spain and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least 10 percent more people ages 55 and up in each of those countries agree with the church.

The 12 countries surveyed, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, U.S., Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines, represent 61 percent of the world's Catholic population.

[Stephanie Yeagle is managing editor at NCR. Her email address is]

A version of this story appeared in the Feb 28-March 13, 2014 print issue under the headline: Survey shows a divided global church.

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