Satisfaction with Bishops Takes a Big Jump

The percentage of Catholics who are satisfied with the leadership of the U.S. bishops has jumped 14 percentage points to 72 percent since 2004, according to a study of American Catholics released Sunday. The report, by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, attributes the rising satisfaction levels to a recovery of respect for the leadership of the church since the height of the clergy sex abuse scandals that swept through American Catholicism in 2002. The poll numbers hit their nadir in 2004, when four in ten Catholics said they were "somewhat" or "very" dissatisfied with the bishops' leadership.

The 170-page report by CARA -- which has been surveying Catholics for 44 years -- also bears out my colleague Michelle Boorstein's portrait of the split personality of Pope Benedict's rambunctious American flock.

On the one hand: Despite the plunge in the number of U.S. priests, for example, more than one in 10 Catholic men -- 2.2 million -- say they have seriously considered becoming a priest or religious brother. And 15 percent of Catholic women say have they considered becoming a nun or religious sister.

On the other hand: While 77 percent of Catholic say they are "proud" to be a Catholic, more than two-thirds believe they can be good Catholics without going to Mass every Sunday. Indeed, less than one in four Catholics actually attend Mass every week.
CARA's reports always yield news on broad trends in Catholicism, as well as fascinating nuggets.

For example, four in 10 Catholics believe that "bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present" in the Eucharist.

That is a direct refutation of a cornerstone Catholic doctrine that Jesus Christ is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But, as always, some of CARA's best work is done when it splits up Catholics into four generations and then examines each group and its beliefs and practices separately.

This time around, it digs up some intriguing news about Millennial Catholics -- ages 18-26 -- who came of age under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and their surprising similarities in some aspects to a much older generation -- Catholics who are 66 and older.

For example, Millennial Catholics who attend church at least once a month are just as likely to believe Jesus Christ is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist (85 percent) as are the oldest generation of Catholics who attend at least monthly. That compares to three-quarters of Catholics ages 27 to 65 who attend church at least monthly. Among those who attend Mass at least once a month, Millennial Catholics are more likely than older Catholics to say they are involved in parish life and are among the most likely to consider their faith the most important part of their life.

Keep in mind that those figures are for Catholics who are at least somewhat observant -- they attend Mass regularly. If you compare all Millennial Catholics to all of their elders, some of the similarities dissolve. For example, just 8 percent of Millennial women said they ever considered becoming a nun, compared to 15 percent of Catholic women ages 66 and above. (CARA calls that older generation the "pre-Vatican II generation," because its members came of age before the Second Vatican Council.)

By Jacqueline L. Salmon |  April 14, 2008; 8:23 AM ET
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Not everyone is happy with their Bishop! It is my hope that the Pope truely hears what people are saying here in the U.S. The downsizing of the Catholic Church has hurt so many people across the country. Our small communities need the Catholic churches that thrived in them before church closings. Ours is one such parish. We had a thriving young community, but the Diocese of Toledo was not willing to hear us.

To find out more, please visit our website. You can witness one of our outreach programs on youtube. We welcome your thoughts and prayers.

We will continue to pray that the leadership of the church takes us in the right direction. The faith is good; the leadership has let us down.


Posted by: Kimberly Johnson | April 14, 2008 9:32 PM

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