Poll taking has its place. But polls cannot establish truth or determine what is right and wrong. All they can do is report what people think at a moment in time.
A poll in Nazi Germany in 1940 may well have reported that most Germans thought Jews could be deported or even killed. But even if 80% thought so, that did not make it right, correct, moral, or in any way decent.
And yet, despite such an obvious example, many people still think poll taking can establish something as true. Or, put more precisely, that what “most people” think about something makes it true. It does not. It only means most people think it.
The Latest Poll is out on the Church and it claims to demonstrate that “most Catholics,” worldwide (with the usual exception of African Catholics) disagree with a lot of teachings of the Church on Marriage and sexuality etc. Not all that surprising in terms of results.
Now such information can be valuable since it reminds us that we who love Church and support her teachings have a lot of work to do to overcome a huge cultural sea-change that has swept the world. Fifty to one Hundred Years ago, poll numbers like this would have been unthinkable, not just among Catholics but among any segment or sampling of anyone anywhere. So this is a sea-change and a sudden one at that.
And before the usual Vatican II bromides come out lets remember that the last hundred years have featured two world wars, the Cold War, The Vietnam and Korean Wars the nuclear arms race, The rise of atheistic Communism, the errors of Modernism, the bloodbath not only of war but of legalized abortion, and the killing of at least 100 million people for ideological purposes by the likes of Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Add further the sexual revolution with is resulting STDs, AIDS, contraception, abortion, single motherhood, same-sex attraction, confusion and almost complete sexual irresponsibility, capped off with the rise of no-fault divorce. Add the rise in smoking dope, using hallucinogenic drugs and the stinking thinking that it gave rise to.
Well….you get the point. It is hard to conceive of the 20th Century as anything but a nearly complete disaster, a century mysteriously given over to Satan.
And then comes a poll like this. At one level, not surprising given that many forces of Hell seem to have been set loose. At another level a picture of dramatic the least few decades have been.
Here are a few details. Among the findings:
- • Only 19 percent of Catholics in the European countries and 30 percent in the Latin American countries surveyed agree with church teaching that divorcees who remarry outside the church should not receive Communion, compared with 75 percent in the most Catholic African countries.
- • Only 30 percent of Catholics in the European countries and 36 percent in the United States agree with the church ban on female priests, compared with 80 percent in Africa and 76 percent in the Philippines, the country with the largest Catholic population in Asia.
- • Only 40 percent of Catholics in the United States oppose gay marriage, compared with 99 percent in Africa.
- • Seventy-eight percent of Catholics across all countries surveyed support the use of contraceptives
- • Overall, 65 percent of Catholics said abortions should be allowed: 8 percent in all cases and 57 percent in some.
Africa seems to be our tainted flock’s solitary boast and also helps to show that the problem is more about culture than liturgy and Vatican II stuff. The Church in Africa is very Vatican II liturgically and structurally. The main difference there it would seem is that the cultural revolution from the decadent and affluent West has had less impact.
A few thoughts on the poll and the reporting of it.
1. The title of the Washington Post article reporting the poll read in part: “Pope Francis faces church divided over doctrine…” This phraseology is a common but secular way of speaking of the Church and doctrine. But the Church is not divided over doctrine. Our Doctrine is clear and those who can proclaim it and teach it with authority (the magisterium) are not divided. And even if a few bishops demur or get out of line, the Defined Doctrine of the Church cannot be changed because, it is true.
To illustrate this, consider the following math problem and solve for x: 2(3x – 7) + 4 (3 x + 2) = 6 (5 x + 9 ) + 3.
The answer is
Now lets suppose a lot of folks, say 78%, look at the math problem and because they are lousy at math just answer the question “not sure.” Does that mean the answer is unsure? No. Lets say, 62% say the answer is actually – 6.25 and only 28% get the answer right and 20% remain unsure. Does this mean that -21/4 is no longer the right answer?
In other words, Catholics cannot “differ over doctrines” that are defined truth, any more than people can “differ” over the correct answer to this math problem. What is true remains true no matter how many people get it wrong.
Thus, the title of the article might more rightly have said, “Pope Francis faces a Church where many no longer hold the Catholic faith.” Or, “Pope Francis faces a Church wherein the faithful are confused about what the Church teaches and why.”
2. The concept of a poll also reflects a flawed ecclesiology. The implied premise of most secular reporting and commenting on polls like this is that the Church does not reflect the views of her members, and many consider this somehow a failure on the part of the Church. But of course it is not the role of the Church to reflect the views of her members. The job and role of the Church is to reflect the view of her founder and head Jesus Christ.
The real Jesus happen to get nailed to the cross for some of the things he taught. The crowds turned on him in a moment, not because he changed, or truth changed, but because the crowds were fickle and changed.
The Church cannot, and must not look to the views of her members to determine doctrine. She must reflect her head and founder Jesus, who has given her the Deposit of Faith, to which she must be true.
Regarding the crowds, even including some of his own disciples, Jesus heard “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday, and “Crucify him” by Friday. And thus, the Church which is his body, shares the same lot; namely, that we must preach the gospel in season and out of season. Polls cannot and must not affect this, and those who claim they should have a mistaken ecclesiology
3. In a way, the whole numbers game also presents a false ecclesiology. In one sense, we would all like the Church to be big, it helps pay the bills, and more importantly gives us some sense that we are trying to fulfill the mandate to go and make disciples of all the nations. Of course disciples, means true disciples, not simply those who say they are Catholic etc.
While a big church may also be impressive looking, it is important to remember the Church was at her most powerful when she was smallest. I speak of Good Friday. Jesus is nailed to the cross. And every one of the bishops but one, St. John the Apostle, and all of the Lord’s disciples but about four women, all seemingly named Mary remained with him. There it was, the Church of four or five members, clergy and lay, with her head and founder Jesus. But that day, Satan was defeated and the gates of heaven swung open. And they even made two converts that day, the Good Thief, and the Centurion. Perhaps not a bad day for such a small Church.
The wayward bishops and disciples eventually returned, and the numbers grew. Down the centuries there has been fairly steady growth, marked with some tremendous setbacks: The loss of all North Africa, destroyed by Muslim invaders. The Eastern schism and the western revolt of Protestants. But even when the North African Church was destroyed, Europe lit up, then as Europe divided among Protestants almost 10,000,000 people came into the Church in Mexico led by our Lady of Guadalupe. Today the Church in the decadent West is dying, Africa is lighting up again.
Numbers are strange thing. The small Church can do magnificent things and even a growing Church has its ups and downs. Polls capture a moment in time, but they are quite poor at seeing the great sweep of history.
Time will prove a wisdom lies, and when the decadence of these times has been buried by its own diseases, The Church of Christ will still be here preaching the Gospel. Yes it will always be so.
Make what you want of this poll. It does speak of the depths of the modern disconnect from the ancient and venerable teaching of the Church, received from Jesus himself. Many prefer to substitute a fake Jesus who is compassion but without truth; who always says yes, but never no. The real Jesus of Scripture speaks the truth to us, and love and like any truly good doctor, offers healing because he knows there is disease, and that to refuse to speak of the disease is malpractice
If anything, this poll simply reminds us of why we exist. It cannot tell us what we must do, for what we must do has never changed; we must continue to propose and repropose truth to the human family of often obtuse heart and wayward spirit.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.…If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God! (2 Cor 5:10-20 selected)