News people love polls. The reason is obvious.

If you are a “journalist,” and you don’t want to waste time interviewing people and tracking down leads, and if you are also inclined to use your journalistic clout to agitate for social change that is to your personal prejudice, well then, polls are a gimme, gimme, gimme. Opinions come and go, political candidates rise and fall, but pollsters, and those who write about polls, abide.

The trouble with “opinion” polls is that interpretation of the results rests in the hands of the interpreters. That’s why a recent poll that indicated that fully 90% of Catholics approve of the Pope, and a whopping 89% of Catholics also approve of their Church, received a headline from the Washington Post announcing that “The vast majority of US Catholics who left the Church can’t imagine returning.”

Their bias is showing.

I spent my entire legislative life looking at polls like this and then doing what I thought was best, despite the poll. I knew that poll results were indicators, not hard thinking. In the final analysis, polls didn’t matter. What mattered was whether or not I could communicate my vision to the people I represented. To put it another way, what mattered was whether or not I could exercise leadership.

I look at the same polls that Catholic bashers mine for nuggets to throw at the Church, and I see attitudes, situations and off-the-cuff reactions to disparate realities. I also see enormous opportunity for conversion of this culture.

The poll I cited earlier was a recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. Pew Research Center released another, slightly different, poll showing much the same results. The emphasis of the poll by the Public Religion Institute was the impact that the so-called “Francis Effect” was having on American Catholics. The Pew Research poll was mostly focused on Catholic attitudes about family. 

It’s impossible to create parallels between the two polls because their respective definitions of “Catholic” are so different from one another. The Pew Research poll opens the spigot wide, noting that up to 45% of the American population is in some way “connected” to the Catholic Church.

I think that number is so broadly achieved that it’s meaningless in terms of data. But it does make a huge point about possibilities for conversion. If Pew Research is correct — and the number just about has to be an extrapolation of some sort — then Catholics have access to fully 45% of the American population. Think what Paul of Tarsus would have done with that!

The poll also reveals that 90% of American Catholics believe that the best family situation for raising children is “a household headed by a married mother and father.” I’m not sure what slice of their sampling they used to get this number. Was it everyone they consider Catholic? Or was it just regular Mass-going Catholics?

Pew Research basically defines anyone as a Catholic who says they are Catholic. This includes people who haven’t been inside a Catholic Church in decades right alongside those who attend daily Mass.

But whatever sampling they used, that is a powerful percentage.

The study goes on to reveal that Catholics are, by and large, tolerant of those who live in “non-traditional” families, including those who cohabit and are in gay relationships. However, their clear preference for a household with a married mother and father indicates that they see these “non-traditional” families as second-best for children.

What do these polls, and the cacophony of Church-bashing reporting that always accompanies such polls, tell us?

First, don’t pay attention to biased media’s interpretations of the polls. These folks will sift through pages of data to find something that they can shout out as proof that the Church is dying. They do it every time. There’s no reason to take their seriously.

Second, if 90% of Catholics like the Pope, and 89% of Catholics like the Church, and 90% of Catholics realize that children do best in a home with a mother and a father who are married to one another, then the Church has a very solid base. That includes a solid base on which to build support for traditional marriage.

Add to that the rather oddball statistic that 45% of Americans are “connected” to the Church in some way, and you’ve got a set up for full-scale conversion of this culture.

What we need — and I’ve been saying this right along, and I’m probably going to say it more strongly in the future — is leadership.

I get the impression that much of our Church leadership reads the headlines instead of the polls, and if they read the polls, they don’t recognize the opportunities. There is zero reason in either of these polls to go all ditzy and start talking about watering down Catholic teaching or witness.

In fact, there are powerful indicators that what is needed is leadership with the ability to communicate to simply pick up the pieces of what has been given to it and lead. We can convert this culture, my friends. All we have to do is stop being so angry and dithery and reach out to that 45% of the population connected to us with the love of Christ.

The whole world is a butcher shop. People are angry, desperate and scared. And we have the solution. Our solution is not an idea. He is a person. He is God.

Jesus Christ has experienced every single thing that we experience. He is God made human, our brother. He offers us meaning, love and a steady arm to lean on in this life; eternal life in the next.

Because we belong to Him, we have nothing to fear. Nothing. 

Let’s start sharing Jesus with a world that’s dying for Him. Let’s go to work and bring that 45% home.