Saturday, January 19, 2008

Myths about Catholic popular opinion

Jimmy Akin writes in his post, "I've Been Saying This For Years" (January 14, 2008):
It's shocking!

You know how only a third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence?

Well, they don't.

By which I mean: It isn't true that only a third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence.

That's a myth that got created due to thee things: (1) a pollster using a poorly worded questions that didn't correspond to Catholic teaching, meaning that Catholics responding to the question weren't sure how to answer it in a way that reflected their faith, and so the pro-Real Presence vote got split among several different categories. (2) Those reading the results of the poll didn't pay careful attention to how the question was worded and what the implications were for how the different categories had to be pieced back together to get an accurate indication of belief in the Real Presence. (3) The general desire to lament how bad things are these days led people to read the results in terms of a staggering crisis of faith.

And so for years the idea has been floating around out there that only a small number of Catholics actually believe in the Real Presence, despite the fact that it isn't true.

Now, I'm happy to concede that not enough Catholics believe in the Real Presence. 100% of them should. I'm also happy to concede that not enough Catholics understand the Real Presence in the manner articulated by the Church (transubstantiaion). Some have views that are fuzzy on that point, and bad catechesis is a key factor in that.

But the numbers are nowhere near as bleak as people make out.

And now there's a new study (by the National Catholic Reporter folks, of all people), that backs this up. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus writes:
81 percent say that “belief that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist” is essential in their understanding of the Catholic faith. Keep in mind that the survey is of a cross section of the 65 million Catholics in the U.S. (although Latinos are greatly underrepresented). Among the more highly committed Catholics, it is reasonable to assume that belief in the Real Presence is considerably higher than 81 percent. This is worth keeping in mind because some years ago a clumsily worded question in a survey came up with the conclusion that only one third of Catholics believed in the Real Presence, and that “finding” still crops up in discussions on the state of Catholicism. Among active Catholics, belief in the Real Presence, as also in the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection of Jesus, edges up toward unanimity.
See Richard John Neuhaus, "American Catholics and Catholic Americans" (First Things, January 11, 2008).

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