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Pew Poll: U.S. Catholics Accept Non-Traditional Families


Results of a new poll out this morning suggest that Pope Francis is extremely popular among American Catholics.


Ninety percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center had a favorable view of the pope.

INSKEEP: The same survey finds that majorities of American Catholics hold different views than their church on social issues. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the game that we're starting with. We're starting with the bozo buckets.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: As a couple of dozen little kids line up for their turns to toss bean bags into bozo buckets at the Our Lady of the Snows parish picnic in a forest preserve southwest of Chicago, the adults gathering around picnic tables, grills and coolers are eager to chat about their still relatively new pope, Francis.

ARLENE NABOR: I think he's really good. He's got a lot of new things, new ideas and that.

SCHAPER: Seventy-eight-year-old parishioner Arlene Nabor of suburban Stickney reflects the widespread enthusiasm for Pope Francis among U.S. Catholics. The Pew poll also finds that many Catholics are eager for change. Forty-three-year-old Tona West says the church can sometimes seem stuck in the 1950s.

TONA WEST: We've evolved since the '50s until now with so many things, so I think the church needs to evolve as well.

SCHAPER: Our Lady of the Snows parishioner Paul Havlicek agrees and says Pope Francis seems to recognize that as well.

PAUL HAVLICEK: He's got a lot of liberal views with letting the gays in, letting divorcees back in, without saying you're excommunicated.

SCHAPER: The pope just last month called on the church to better embrace divorced Catholics. On gays, Francis has said, who am I to judge, and he encourages outreach. Paul's wife, Janette Havlicek, is happy to hear it.

JANETTE HAVLICEK: The church is losing people. Would you rather lose somebody because they're gay or accept them? Jesus accepted everybody, so my feeling is we should accept everyone.

SCHAPER: A large majority of American Catholics agree with her, according to today's Pew poll. Although 44 percent say homosexual behavior is a sin, almost as many say it is not. And more than two-thirds say it is OK for gay and lesbian couples to live together and raise children.

GREG SMITH: The survey finds that Catholics in the United States are quite open and accepting of a variety of nontraditional family arrangements.

SCHAPER: Associate research director Greg Smith says Pew surveyed 5,000 people who self-identify as Catholics, including those who do not attend church regularly and those who have left the church. Eighty-seven percent of them find it acceptable for children to be raised by a single parent, and 84 percent of them are OK with children being raised by unmarried parents living together. And Smith says large numbers of Catholics condone behavior the church considers sinful.

SMITH: Catholics' attitudes on a variety of subjects don't always track perfectly with the church's teachings, whether you're thinking about contraception or abortion or same-sex marriage or homosexuality.

SCHAPER: Smith says more than two-thirds of Catholics surveyed say using birth control is not a sin, more than half say it is not a sin to live with a romantic partner outside of marriage, and 60 percent favor allowing divorcees who remarry to receive communion.

SMITH: I think a lot of these data reflect Catholics' own experiences.

SCHAPER: Yet despite this new spirit of openness under Pope Francis, Catholic church doctrine on these hot-button issues has not changed. And that's important to many devout Catholics, such as Our Lady of the Snows parishioner Irene Valldeperas, who says she does appreciate Francis' change to a more welcoming tone.

IRENE VALLDEPERAS: We all love gay people. I don't like what they're doing, but as human beings, they're children of God.

SCHAPER: Her view that homosexual behavior and abortion are sins remains the majority view among Catholics who attend mass at least once a week. But the poll finds a significant number of Catholics disagree. In fact, the Pew survey finds that there are many issues that divide American Catholics along racial and ethnic lines, partisan lines and generational lines. But, Pope Francis isn't one of them. He's widely admired. And most American Catholics, regardless of background, say Pope Francis represents a real change in church direction for the better. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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