American Catholics and African Catholics

 Yesterday, the New York Times released a poll they conducted with CBS.  The goal was to ascertain the views of Roman Catholics in the United States.  I want to go further in this post, but here are some results that might interest you.

Who is in touch with “the needs of Catholics today?”  Considered as a general matter, 53% are out of touch.  Bishops, 49% are out of touch.  Parish priests—this is where the break occurs—63% are in touch.  And for your priest in particular, 72% are in touch.  Nuns are 51% in touch.

I’m familiar with this phenomenon in the well-known finding that Congress is bad, but my congressman is good.  The schools are bad, but my child’s school is good.

What would U. S. Catholics like to see in the new pope?  He should be younger (66%) and more liberal (54%).  He should favor letting priests marry (69%) and letting women become priests (69%) and for “artificial methods of birth control.” (71%).  On the other hand, he should not favor legalized abortion (56% opposed)  or the death penalty (56%).

Finally, we come to three questions that bring us a little closer to my own interest.  The question is, “Do you believe the pope is infallible when he teaches on matters of morality and faith or not?”  The highest number say he is not (46%), but the number who say he is infallible is not far behind at 40%.

“On difficult moral questions, which are you more likely to follow—the teachings of the Pope, or your conscience?”  Not, “the teachings of the church,” I notice.  Conscience wins in a landslide, 78% to 13%.  Another 7% say they don’t know, but I’d guess those are “conscience people” whose consciences tell them it is not wise to speak their opinion candidly to a pollster.

“Do you think it is possible to disagree with the pope on issues like birth control, abortion, or divorce and still be a good Catholic?”  Yes, it is possible, 83%.  No, it is not, 13%.

This brings us to Geri Toni, a 57 year-old woman who was one of the respondents to the poll.  “I can understand how the Catholic Church stands against it (abortion).  We are not supposed to kill.  That is one of our Ten Commandments.  But as a woman, I have to make sense of it, and I believe choice comes down to the individual.”

That seems to me a striking statement for an American Catholic to make.  I am readier to hear that sentiment from a Baptist, for whom the congregational tradition is so strong and the hierarchical obligation so weak.  “I know what my church says,” says Ms. Toni, “but I’m a woman and I don’t believe it if I don’t understand it and I think that whatever my church says, it is my own sense of right and wrong that matters most.”

Did I miss anything there?  Is that what she said?



Position on Catholic Doctrines




Norms Governing Social Organization Individualism  

Winner in the U. S.



Loser in the U. S.


Loser everywhere else



Winner everywhere else


Let’s take another step.  One of the men who is being considered as a possibility for the papacy is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.[1]  I know almost nothing about him, but let’s consider him as a strong contender on the grounds that as the Roman Catholic church is shrinking in the northern hemisphere, it is growing rapidly in the southern hemisphere.  As the majority of Catholics shifts to the south, it would make sense to choose a pope from the south and Ghana fits that directional shift.

Cardinal TurksonBut that points to some difficulties.  As the American Catholics are shifting to the left socially and theologically and as they are claiming unheard of freedom from the dogmatic guidance of their church, the Catholic church of the south is a good deal more conservative.  If they are more loyal to the institution—for lack of anything else to call that loyalty, I called it “corporatism” in the table—as well as more conservative, I think they will take over the governance of the church fairly quickly.  Organizations made up of individualists are going to lose out, more often than not, to organizations made up of corporatists, or, if you will, “team players.”

So now what?  American Catholics split off and become Episcopalians?  A distinct, non-papal American Catholic Church is devised?  Catholicism splits into a church of the Catholics of the North and the Catholics of the South? 

I have no idea.  The thing I am pretty sure of is that the Catholics can’t become markedly more liberal, so as to keep the American allegiance, and markedly more conservative, so as to accommodate the South, at the same time.

[1] I’m just meeting Cardinal Turkson today.  I know his nickname is Peter the Roman.  I know his full name is Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, and I know that his father was a carpenter.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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