Let’s say you’re an American Catholic bishop and you’re thinking about what your people would like to see in the new pope. You’re not really interested in the views of all those nominal Catholics who rarely darken your door. It’s the loyal parishioners, the leaven in the lump, whose opinions you want to know.
So you turn to the interactive graphic of the New York Times‘ new survey of American Catholics and click on the drop-down box in the upper right so it says, “Show responses from ATTEND MASS WEEKLY.”
Sure enough, these folks are more with the program than the other demographic cohorts. Seventy percent of them think the next pope should be against legalized abortion and 67 percent think he should oppose the death penalty.
On the other hand, 61 percent think he should be in favor of letting priests marry; 57 percent, that he should be in favor of letting women be priests. Sixty-two percent think he should support artificial methods of birth control; 82 percent, that he should favor the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV infection and other diseases.
By a three-to-one margin they say they’re more likely to follow their own conscience than the pope’s teachings on difficult moral questions, and 74 percent think it’s possible to disagree with the pope on issues like birth control, abortion, and divorce and still be a good Catholic.
Two-thirds would like the cardinals to choose a younger pope with new ideas. Forty percent would like those ideas to be more liberal than Pope Benedict’s, while just 22 percent would like them to be more conservative.
What’s a poor bishop to do? If your most loyal cohort, representing about 25 percent of American Catholics, is so far removed from where your magisterium, maybe it’s time to throw in the towel. Or maybe it’s time for a different kind of pope.