Papal Reforms Would Bring Back Wayward Catholics, Pollster Says

By Douglas Todd
Vancouver Sun
March 12, 2013

A new online poll suggests a strong majority of North American Catholics want to see the next pope institute reforms regarding contraception and marriage.

A strong majority of North America Roman Catholics want a more "liberal" pope and seek an end to Vatican bans on artificial contraception, married priests and female ordination, according to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll released Monday.

Vancouver-based pollster Mario Canseco, a practising Catholic like his boss, Angus Reid, said the cross-border poll points to clear ways the cardinal who will be elected pope this week could bring wayward Catholics back to the fold.

Canseco, who attended Catholic educational institutions for 17 years in Mexico and Spain, said he was personally "pleasantly surprised" with the findings - because the yearning for Vatican reform is widespread among both Catholics who attend church once a week and those who show up less frequently.

Sixty per cent of Canadian Catholics who go to mass at least every week want a more "liberal" pontiff. That figure swells to 69 per cent among Canadian Catholics who attend church less often.

Only 20 per cent of weekly attending Canadian Catholics want a "conservative" pope.

Support for a more "liberal" pope is almost as high among American Catholics as it is in Canada.

Canseco said the poll suggests the new pope "could send a very powerful message" by allowing condoms and birth-control pills, especially since it would "help keep people alive" in the midst of the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Almost six out of 10 Canadian Catholics who attend church once a week want the Vatican to "take a more liberal" approach to contraception, according to the online poll of 1,200 Catholics in Canada and 1,200 in the U.S. Among Canadian Catholics who attend less than once per week, support for contraception swells to 77 per cent.

The new Angus Reid survey generally backs up Canadian polls conducted over the decades by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reg Bibby, who last collected uncovered Catholics' liberal attitudes toward hot-button moral issues in the mid-2000s.

Even though conservative Catholics in North America often argue Roman Catholic teachings should not be based on public opinion - and that Catholic doctrines have not changed since the time of Jesus and his apostles - Canseco is one of many Catholics who acknowledge the church has evolved.

In his book, A Church That Can and Cannot Change, the important American Catholic scholar and judge John Noonan was among those who pointed out that the Vatican has on many occasions adapted its moral teachings in response to cultural movements.

For instance, it took until the 19th century for the Catholic Church to stop condoning slavery, Noonan wrote. In addition, the Vatican has changed by making it possible to dissolve some marriages, allow financial institutions to charge credit and not demanding that the state punish those who do not follow Vatican orthodoxy.

Other scholars point to how the Vatican has also apologized for earlier positions on Jews and the persecuted scientist, Galileo.

Even though conservative Catholic commentators tend to dominate in Canadian media, Canseco said he could not see why the next pope would not soon respond to the moral viewpoints of all kinds of Catholics in North America, and possibly in many other parts of the world, on married priests and ordaining women.

The Angus Reid poll found 71 per cent of Canadian Catholics who attend church weekly think the next pontiff should allow priests to marry. This position is also supported by more than two-thirds of Catholics in Canada and the U.S. who worship less than once a week.

In addition, Canseco's team found 62 per cent of Canadian Catholics who show up at mass each week (plus 81 per cent of the rest) want the new pope to allow female priests.

Most North American Catholics "look around at what is happening in many Protestant churches," said Canseco. They conclude there is no compelling reason not to allow priests to marry and have children, and for some priests to be female.

But Canseco, who still attends church after studying at a Jesuit university for six years, insists the most obvious move for the Vatican would be to allow artificial contraception.

"People are waiting for something to happen. I was the last of my parents' six children. But none of my siblings have more than three children," he said.

"Most Catholics see no problem with contraception, as long as you're a good person. There are other changes the Vatican could make, but to me allowing contraception would be the safest," he said, suddenly chuckling.

"No pun intended."



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