Catholics urge more focus on social justice, new national survey shows
Published: October 26, 2012
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A large national study on faith and political views released Oct. 23 highlighted Catholics' interest in having social justice take a bigger role in the church's policy priorities. The American Values Survey by Public Religion Research Institute queried a cross section of all Americans but zeroed in on the opinions of Catholics, in particular, on topics including contraceptive coverage in insurance and the death penalty as well as on the pending presidential election. In interviews during September, a majority of Catholics told pollsters that they would prefer it if the church would focus its public policy statements "more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life." Sixty percent of Catholics concurred with that statement or with another version in which the phrasing was reversed. Among those Catholics who attend church at least weekly, 51 percent chose the social justice emphasis, while 65 percent of those who attend monthly or less often made that choice. Among the various demographic breakouts provided by the study, just two segments -- self-identified conservatives and Republicans -- agreed with the statement by less than 50 percent, 46 percent and 47 percent, respectively, though that was still the plurality response. Social justice was chosen by slightly more poll participants who self-identified as conservative and Republican than selected the opposite. Michele Dillon, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in research on religion and culture, said the response reflects a long-term pattern in Catholic thinking. "Care for the poor and needy has been a strong theme in Catholic teaching since the end of the 19th century," Dillon told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 25 phone interview. "That's been totally in continuity with the church leadership over the decades and it's still primary for a lot of people in defining what it means to be Catholic."
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