I wanted to revisit last week's wildly popular (thanks again, New Advent!) post regarding that misleading statistic that tries to suggest that 98% of all Catholics (or of all Catholic women of childbearing age) are totally fine with contraception. As we discussed, the question actually asks whether a woman has ever used contraception, not whether she now agrees with and lives by Church teaching; there's also no differentiation between women who were baptized Catholic and show up at a church every now and again on those CAPE occasions (Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter) and faithful Catholic wives and mothers who attend Mass every Sunday and live according to all of the Church's teachings.
If you recall, these were the questions I asked last week:
a) Do you attend Sunday Mass every week unless impeded by a serious reasons such as illness or the care of infants, etc.?Provided I haven't accidentally overlooked anyone's comment, I calculated the following responses:
b) Do you participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church?
c) If you are married, are you validly married in the Church?
d) If the answer to a-c is "yes," do you presently accept the Church's teaching against artificial contraception and avoid its use in all circumstances?
"Yes" to all four questions, indicating acceptance of the Church's teaching against contraception by faithful Catholics: 48--or 49, if you'd like to count my answers, as well. :)
"Yes" to A-C, but "No" to D, indicating a rejection of the Church's teaching against contraception by Catholics who consider themselves to be otherwise faithful: 7
There were two respondents who said "Yes" to all but C because they are not married--but as unmarried Catholics they wished to indicate their full support for Church teaching against contraception. And it was pretty obvious that the two priests who responded (thank you, Fathers!) are fully supportive of the Church's teaching against contraception as well.
As I said, this is an unscientific survey. Blog readers in general are not a huge audience; Catholics who read this blog or came here from New Advent are probably a small percentage of American Catholics as a whole, and so on. Nevertheless, I'd like to see a scientific survey of Catholics who attend Mass each Sunday as to their attitudes about contraception, because I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that my responses aren't really all that far from the truth--that is, that while dissent regarding the Church's teaching against artificial contraception is certainly present at the parish level, it does not come close to involving 98% of those Catholics who actually bother to show up for Sunday Mass and to be involved in parish and sacramental life.
An experience I had with a former pastor might be noteworthy: this good priest would preach against contraception a few times a year (which is something I wish every Catholic pastor would do!), and each time he would mention the next Sunday that he had received a few complaints about it, either in person or by letter. He never had a massive walk-out of parishioners; he never mentioned receiving an overwhelming number of complaints; and I know this priest well enough to be certain that if at any time he even remotely suspected that some 98% of the married couples in the pews were dissenters regarding contraception he would have made it a prerogative to preach and teach about it every week until the situation improved. So I think that the narrative which suggests that American Catholics (especially those who attend the Ordinary Form) are all a bunch of contracepting dissenters is not the truth, and is, in fact, a potentially dangerous and damaging false impression.
Why do so many Catholics have that impression? I think that the media is partly responsible; they survey "Catholics" about birth control and fail to mention that most of the "Catholics" they are surveying haven't been to Mass in twenty years (with the possible CAPE exceptions). I also think that the decline in family size in the pews has created the impression--but bearing in mind that many Catholics (and non-Catholics) are marrying later than people used to, that more women seem to struggle with infertility problems, and that NFP methods are, indeed, a blessing to those families who have good reasons to use them, the decline in family size as seen in the pews tells us less than we think it does.
The important thing, I think, is that those of us Catholics who do take our faith seriously enough to accept the Church's teachings in all areas and to attend Mass weekly should realize that those who dissent regarding contraception may be present--but it's not a given that they wildly outnumber us. The reality may be the opposite, and in that case the opportunities for evangelization, faithful witness, and discipleship may be much more urgent and compelling than we even guessed.
UPDATE: Get Religion explodes that "98%" statistic once and for all. It meant even less than we thought it did. (Many thanks to the reader who sent the link!)