Online Edition – Vol. III, No. 1: March 1997
Catholics Favor Standard English
New Study Demolishes the Notion that American Catholics Want "Inclusivised" Mass Texts
More than seventy percent of Catholics in America reject the notion that women are excluded by words like ‘man’ and ‘mankind’, a new poll reveals.
The study, commissioned by Catholic World Report and conducted over a two-week period in late January and early February by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, surveyed 1,000 Catholic Americans, asking them a series of questions about their religious beliefs and practices, and their attitude toward the use of so-called "inclusive language".
The survey results — on questions relating to opinions on Catholic moral teachings such as abortion and contraception — showed that a disappointing majority of the respondents question these teachings. This finding is consistent with other recent polls, and was not surprising.
But the poll also revealed that objection to language changes is overwhelming. By clear and consistent majorities, the Catholics surveyed indicated their lack of enthusiasm for — even strong objection to — the use of neutered English, especially in Scripture translations.
Significantly, every subgroup within the overall survey sample showed a marked preference for standard English usage.
Men and women, young and old, those who frequent the sacraments and those who do not, those who accept the Church’s teachings and those who reject them — all rejected neutered English by strong majorities.
Although the preference for standard English is most pronounced among the most active and loyal Catholics, and weakest among those who are most alienated from the Church, it is, nevertheless, an opinion shared by an overwhelming majority in every category surveyed.
The Roper poll also revealed that:
a majority of Catholics in America disagree with the Church on abortion;
there is a close correlation between tolerance for abortion and advocacy for the ordination of women;
the continued rejection of Church teaching on contraception indicates the depth of dissent in the Church in America; and
in spite of their dissent on other core teachings of the Church, a surprising majority of Catholics say they believe in the Real Presence.
Concerning the issue of neutered language in the liturgy, the poll shows that:
*people have come to accept constant changes in the Mass
*most people prefer traditional translations of the Bible
*the alleged popular demand for "inclusive language" is a myth.
Dissent on Catholic Doctrine Widespread
Responses to the poll showed that 39 percent of the Catholic Americans "strongly disagree" with the statement that "abortion is never justified", while another 20% "mildly disagree". Only 26 percent strongly agree with the Church’s unequivoval position on abortion.
On the ordination question, the survey showed a similar majority dissents from Church teaching that only men may be ordained, with 42 percent saying that they "strongly disagree", and another 16 percent that they "mildly disagree". Only 20 percent of those polled strongly agreed with the Church.
Confirming the results of earlier polls, dissent from Catholic teaching was most pronounced in the responses to a question on contraception. To the statement, "it is morally wrong to use artificial methods of birth control", 57 percent strongly disagreed, and another 16 percent mildly disagreed, yielding an overall 73 percent rejection of Catholic teaching.
Predictably, Catholics who frequent the sacraments regularly are more likely to accept the teachings of the Church. But even among those who say they attend Mass at least once a week, only a minority support Catholic doctrine. In that category, even when those who "mildly" agree are included in the calculations, only 46 percent accept Church teaching on abortion; 43 percent accept the all-male priesthood; and a mere 30 percent see contraception as morally wrong.
Despite an astonishing majority of 82 percent agreed with the statement that "the bread and wine used at Mass are actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ", the poll also shows a lax attitude toward attendance at Mass. Only 57 percent of the Catholics polled said they attend Mass every week, while 28 percent attend Mass once a month or less. Only 10 percent go to confession at least once a month, while 33 percent go less than once a year. Another 10 percent volunteered that they have never been to confession.
Yes to Catechesis, Vocations, Devotions
Paradoxically, although a majority of those polled reject many Church teachings, or perhaps precisely because of this, a striking majority of Catholics believe the Church should take new steps to teach the faith and to encourage spiritual growth. In overwhelming numbers, respondents indicated that the Church should: improve religious education for young people (93 percent); provide better preparation for couples before marriage (82 percent); increase devotion to the Eucharist (76 percent); encourage priestly vocations (75 percent); and stop the decline in Mass attendance (70 percent).
In contrast to the strong opinions suggesting the need for improvement on these religious issues, most Catholics seem cool toward Church efforts in the political realm. Curiously, 48 percent felt that the Church should take an active role in the public fight against abortion and euthanasia, slightly more than the 46 percent who said they oppose abortion. Only 31 percent said they think the Church should lobby for increased government spending.
The seemingly paradoxical responses to this survey confirms the impression that considerable confusion and divergence of opinion now exists among Catholics in America a fact which may be attributable in part to mixed signals received from Church leaders, as well as unresolved personal conflicts between religious belief and behavior, even among those who take their faith seriously enough to attend Mass regularly.
Lukewarm on Liturgical Changes
In spite of the confused responses on the Church’s moral teachings, Catholics polled were unenthusiastic about new changes in the liturgy.
Asked whether the Church should use a new translation of the Scriptures in religious services, only 43 percent of those polled supported the idea — a figure that contrasts sharply with the 93 percent support for stronger religious-education programs.
The response to this question by those who attend Mass regularly or rarely, and of those who accepted or rejected Church teachings, varied by only a few percentage points. Again, 43 percent.
There is, in short, no discernible demand for new translations for the liturgy.
Since the Second Vatican Council, ordinary Catholics have experienced continual liturgical changes, both authorized and unauthorized, in the celebration of Sunday Mass. Given the wide variation among parishes and even dioceses, it is not surprising that responses to the poll would be split almost evenly on the question of whether the liturgy has changed during the past ten years.
In fact, 48 percent have noticed a change, while 47 percent believe the liturgy is the same. (While there have been relatively few official changes in the liturgy during the past ten years, other factors may affect the perception of change, such as church renovations, a new catechetical program, or personnel changes within the parish, such as a new pastor or choir director.)
Most Catholics seem to have become inured to changes in the liturgy. A solid 56 percent report that liturgical changes have helped them to get more out of the Mass, while only 16 percent say they are disturbed by the changes.
These statistics may in fact reveal the extent of confusion among Catholics with respect to the Mass. Changes in the Mass, authorized or unauthorized, have become the accepted norm of ordinary parish life.
Resounding No to "Inclusive Language"
Although Catholics seem docile toward most changes in the liturgy, they responded with surprising vigor to the questions on Scripture translation preferences. Even though only 30 percent said they read the Bible more than once a month, Catholics across the board strongly prefer familiar translations in standard English over new versions incorporating neutered English.
By a convincing 71-24 percent, Catholics rejected the notion that "terms such as ‘man’ and ‘mankind’, when used to refer to all people, seem to exclude women". When asked whether the Church should avoid the use of those masculine-gender pronouns, respondents dismissed that suggestion by a resounding 69-21 percent margin.
The responses of women were only marginally different from those of men; women rejected those propositions by margins of 69-26 percent and 69-22 percent respectively. The alleged popular demand for "inclusive language" is a myth.
The Roper poll also asked respondents to compare four pairs of Scripture texts. Three of the pairs compared passages from the New American Bible with Revised New American Bible proposed for use in a new Lectionary (Scripture readings for Mass); a fourth compared the NAB with the new ICEL Psalter.
In every case, the majority of those who expressed a preference opted for the standard English version. Between 35 and 50 percent expressed strong preference for the standard version; while strong preference for the neutered version never exceeded 22 percent. Women as well as men favored the standard English translation in each pair.
The Roper poll also showed that "pastoral" accommodation of the minority who demand neutered language would offend as many as it would please.
In a perfect bell curve, the 8 percent who said they would be more likely to attend Mass in their parishes if an "inclusive language" translation of the lectionary were introduced was exactly balanced by another 8 percent who would be less likely to attend.
– Helen Hull Hitchcock
No Gender Gap (Sidebar to above story)
The controversy over so-called “inclusive language” has apparently failed to
touch most Catholic Americans. Nearly three-fourths of the respondents in
the Roper survey did not even recognize the term “inclusive language.”
14. Are you familiar with the term “inclusive language,” or are you not too
familiar with this term?
|73%||No, Not Familiar|
When the term was explained, most Catholics rejected it emphatically. By another lopsided majority, the respondents indicated that they did not wish to see ‘inclusive language’ translations introduced into the liturgy. Nor was there a noticeable “gender gap” in the responses; women were nearly as emphatic as men.
The following explanation was read to respondents by the interviewer:
Those who support “inclusive language” say that the words spoken in Mass, and written in English translations of the Bible, should avoid the use of terms such as “man” and “mankind” because those terms seem to exclude women. Others argue for keeping the traditional translations used in the liturgy and the Bible because terms such as “man” and “mankind” refer to all people.
15. First, I’d like your opinion on whether terms such as “man” and “mankind,” when used to refer to all people, seem to exclude women?
16. Regardless of what you think about these terms, I’d like your opinion about whether the words that are said in Mass and English translations of the Bible should avoid the use of terms such as “man” and “mankind” when referring to people in general?
full sample women men
Strongly Agree 9% 9 9
Somewhat Agree 12 13 11
Somewhat Disagree 22 24 20
Strongly Disagree 47 44 51
Don’t know 8 8 7
Refused 1 1 1
Oddly enough, while they were quite clear about their own opinions, most Catholics were not so sure how their neighbors would view inclusive language. A majority felt that the Catholic women they knew would be indifferent. In this case there was no significant difference at all between the responses of men and women.
17. Thinking about most of the Catholic women you know, do you think they prefer translations of the Bible or prayers in Mass which use terms such as “man” and “mankind,” OR do you think they prefer translations of the bible or prayers in Mass which avoid using such terms OR don’t you think most Catholic women have a preference?
full sample women men
Prefer standard 21% 21 21
Prefer revised 14 14 14
No preference 52 51 53
Don’t know 12 12 12
Refused 2 2 2