HAMDEN, Conn. — A majority of Catholics who attend Mass weekly oppose same-sex “marriage,” according to a March 8 poll by Quinnipiac University, even though its release suggested that baptized Catholics largely support the practice.
Among Catholics who are registered to vote and who attend Mass weekly, 36% support “gay marriage,” while 55% oppose it, according to figures provided to Catholic News Agency by April Radocchio, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute's associate poll director.
The release announcing the poll, by contrast, said that, among all registered voters who identify as Catholic — 11% of whom never attend religious services — 54% support same-sex “marriage,” while only 47% of all registered voters are supportive of it.
Based on this finding, Peter Brown, the polling institute’s assistant director, said that “Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex 'marriage.'”
Brown’s assertion drew criticism from some Catholic circles, with many suggesting that the poll was flawed in some way.
Pia de Solenni, an ethicist who holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, emphasized that the poll, with a sample of fewer than 500 Catholics, was “hardly representative” of Catholics in America.
“When you ask someone if they’re Catholic, you have to further specify: Do they attend church regularly or not?” she noted.
Survey results are often vastly different between Catholics who do and do not regularly attend Mass.
The poll surveyed 497 Catholics from Feb. 27 to March 4 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4% for questions asked of Catholics.
In the release announcing the poll’s results, Quinnipiac provided figures for several questions pertinent to Catholics in America. Most of these were issues particular to Catholics, and the answers were broken down so that readers could compare the differences between those Catholics who attend religious Mass weekly and less than weekly.
However, the question asking about support or opposition to same-sex “marriage” did not have this distinction, merely showing Catholics as a whole.
Radocchio explained the discrepancy, saying that the question about same-sex “marriage” was asked in the “general issues section” of the poll, and the question was posed to all registered voters.
“We reported them with the breakdowns we generally used with registered voter releases,” she explained.
She said that the remaining questions were all “Catholic issues,” which were asked only of Catholic respondents, regardless of their voter registration.
Among Catholics who are registered to vote and who attend Mass weekly, 36% support “gay marriage,” while 55% oppose it, the poll found. Among those who attend Mass less than weekly, 63% support “gay marriage,” and 29% oppose it.
The margin of error for those figures is plus or minus 4.7%. Fewer than 497 Catholics were asked the question, because not all of the Catholic respondents were registered voters, though Radocchio said the number of Catholic respondents about “gay marriage” was “not much less” than 497.
Brown said that the breakdown of the same-sex “marriage” results was not in the initial poll release because “we only have so much space and can only do so many things up front.”
It was “certainly not malicious,” he said, and was a “completely benign decision.”
The poll also found that while 52% of respondents think the Church is “moving in the right direction,” 55% think the next pope “should move the Church in new directions.” Sixty-four percent said the next pope should “relax the Church ban on contraception,” and 62% responded that he should support allowing women to become priests.
The responses to these questions consistently showed a stark contrast in the opinions of those who attend Mass weekly and those who attend less than weekly. For example, of those who do not attend Mass weekly, 73% support the priestly ordination of women. Of those who do attend weekly, that figure is only 38%.
De Solenni said the poll “shows the importance of more effective teaching” in the Church.
She noted that “when you ask a question of those who attend Mass regularly, the ratios are almost inverse.”
“So if they really want to do a survey that has some integrity, let us know what the standard is for identifying someone as Catholic.”
De Solenni added that these issues are not of interest solely to Americans, but to Catholics worldwide.
“It's really important that we take a global perspective on this, and look at what people are saying around the world.”
She said that polls such as the one conducted by Quinnipiac can be useful in terms of “knowing the audience you're speaking to” and “how much teaching needs to be done.”
Such polls, however, are not helpful guides “in terms of telling us which policies we should pursue.”