Thursday, May 6, 2010

Healing the Body of Christ -- Polling Data About Catholics


The abuse scandal in the Church is an open wound in the Body of Christ, and has been for several years now. Like a diabetic ulcer that refuses to heal, it remains open and eager to fester. Until the Body of Christ takes the proper course of action to heal the wound -- as I believe it is doing -- it will be a constant and ugly irritation.

The NY Times ran an article on 4 May by Goodstein and Sussman called Catholics Criticize the Pope on Sex Scandal, But See Some Hope. The authors offer some interesting statistics and insights about how "Catholics" perceive the Vatican response to the scandals based on a NY Times and CBS News Poll. I want to deal with one particular issue: the poll specifically asks people to identify themselves as "strong Catholics" or "not very strong Catholics" -- of the respondents, 44% of them considered themselves "not very strong Catholics". I believe that number should be higher, let me explain.

At best, that 44% are lukewarm Catholics and at worst, not Catholic at all because they don't believe what they are asked to profess to believe in harmony with the Catholic Church.

So then, one must read the poll with this in mind, 54% of the respondents claim to be "strong Catholics". Let's take that 54% of the polling population and look at it as if they were 100% of those polled of whom we can expect a somewhat informed opinion. Now, taking into consideration 1 out of 12 Apostles is a traitor, you are left with 8.4% of those "strong Catholic" respondents claiming to be something that they are not -- strong Catholics.

Again, this means that out of all the respondents to the NY Times/CBS News Poll, we can logically determine that 91.6% of the 54%, or 49.5% overall, who claim to be practicing their faith in accord with the Magisterium of the Church can be taken seriously from a Catholic perspective. And, that 8.4% can be added to those who are considered "not strong Catholics", placing their numbers at over 50% of the respondents.

This makes my head spin -- how about you?

In essence, the Poll doesn't demonstrate Catholic opinion at all. The polling population is not representative of people who understand their faith, practice it in accord with the teaching authority of the Church, and strive to live it to its fullest as a disciple in the world. Sadly, less than half of the people they polled could be taken seriously as having an informed Catholic opinion. It changes the parameters of their poll drastically. They managed to skew the data to serve their purpose -- to prove the Church is "out of touch" with American Catholics -- code for the contraceptive, abortive mentality that hopes to undermine the morality of Americans.

And, how does my little adventure into figuring out percentages (I believe that's 6th grade math) reflect on the poll and on the pollsters?

Pretty poorly.

I am not a pollster, nor am I a mathematician, but I could look at one question in their poll and determine mathematically that the population polled was not a good representation of "practicing Catholics" in the US today.

Why don't they ever poll me, or the faithful practicing Catholics that I know?

I have one thought -- they don't want to know a Catholic opinion, based on knowledge and truth.

If this same poll were conducted among members of the Church who could demonstrate that they not only believe what is taught through the Magisterium (ask in the poll if they know what that is, please), and that Scripture is the Living Word of God, and, one more thing, that Tradition (with a capital T) is a primary player in how we believe and the way we worship, (we don't just make this stuff up, it has been passed down through the hierarchy for millennia, contrary to some popular misconceptions), I believe the results might be even more hopeful.

In justice to the pollsters and those who report on polling data, our Catholic identity in the US is rather ambiguous. Does the average Catholic in the pew know his Faith -- really understand the teachings and the "why", or perhaps I should say the "Who", behind them? How difficult would it be to find a polling audience of properly catechized Catholic Americans? Does our Conference of Catholic Bishops have one uniform voice that echoes the Vatican?

We are as polarized in belief as Catholics can be in the US. The recent dissent over Health Care and Immigration from prominent clergy and members of religious orders show how deep the wound really is in our Church. (I don't have time to address all of that here.) Sex scandals are not the only issue that is creating this gaping wound in the Body of Christ -- open defiance and overt disobedience to the teaching authority of the Church is serious hemorrhage of that wound that needs a tourniquet applied immediately.

Of course, we know that Christ is the Divine Physician, but WE, the laity and the faithful clergy and religious, are the medical support staff that need to do the triage and assist in the care and recovery of the Body. The Bishops have an obligation to provide teaching that is in accord with the authentic teachings of the Church. They are the shepherds of their flock. And, we have an obligation to KNOW OUR FAITH and THE RIGHT TO BE TAUGHT IT PROPERLY.

Faith is not a matter of public opinion -- it is a sincere ascent to the TRUTH -- "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) It is a matter of trust; the teachings of the Church are true and we deserve to be taught to believe them in a way that allows us to trust them and to ascent to them for the spiritual and eternal good of both the body and the soul. We cannot simply pick and choose what we want to believe out of the body of doctrine. The bishops, in communion with their priests, have the obligation to teach us why we are to believe as we do (Cf. CCC, 888), and it is our obligation to seek out more information -- to inform the intellect so that the will can conform --so that we understand as best we can why we believe as we do. (Cf. CCC, 900) The laity also has a duty to bring Christ to the world as part of our Baptism in to the Body of Christ. We must not shirk this responsibility!

It's a hard pill to swallow that the Divine Physician offers as our prescription for eternal life. Nonetheless, we must work to bind the wounds and heal the Body of Christ so that all may know eternal life.

There are so many points in this one column about who we are as Catholics, and our propensity to view our faith with our feelings and opinions rather than with our rational soul -- the intellect and the will -- that could encompass a book if I took them one by one. Suffice it to say that I do agree with the author's conclusion that "some see hope". I am one of those "some" --there is always hope and we should never betray that fact. We should live in hope always, and work toward restoring good health to the Body of Christ in His Church. It's time to learn our faith so that we may "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." (1 Peter 3:15)

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