Indicting Indicators: Catholic Youth For Obama

November 7, 2008 09:00 AM

Over the years, the Cardinal Newman Society has become synonymous with credible information that contradicts common misconceptions about what it means to be Catholic in today’s culture. CNS describes its efforts as being focused on “renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America's 224 Catholic colleges and universities.”

Its most recent study, commissioned by its Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education, supports my theory that the pabulum being taught in such bastions of higher learning is far removed from the Catholic teachings we equate or should equate with the Church's magisterium. QEV Analytics, a Washington, D.C.-based public-opinion research firm, conducted the study.

Released in October of this year, “Behavior and Beliefs of Current and Recent Students at U.S. Catholic Colleges” gives us a bird's-eye view of the problematic nature of Catholic higher education today. The 506 participants hail from 128 different U.S. Catholic colleges, and some of their behaviors might surprise you. For example,

  • During their last year at a Catholic college or university, 46% of current and recent students engaged in sex outside of marriage (including 41% of respon­dents who say they were sacramentally-active Catholics during that year).

  • While attending a Catholic college or university, 84% of respondents had friends who engaged in premarital sex.

  • During their last year at a Catholic college or university, 27% of respondents regularly viewed pornography (including 28% of then sacramentally-active Catholics).

Now let’s get something straight right now. I am not living in a cave somewhere. I do realize that the nation as a whole has become a sexually-saturated conglomerate, a culture devoted in large part to behaviors that would make the Founding Fathers deeply ashamed. Nothing seems to be off limits any more, and people of all ages are generally presumed to be acting against many of the moral norms of the past. This is why America has the highest rates of sexually transmitted disease in the industrialized world, for example. 

However, one would hope that the general population's modus operandi would not translate so readily into a description of Catholic young people's behavior. Sadly, such hopes are dashed as one reads this study's findings. Not all of the study's respondents were Catholic, but among those who were Catholic, the degree of dissent from basic Catholic moral teaching is alarming:

  • Sixty percent (60%) agree strongly or somewhat that abortion should be legal (including 53% of those who currently identify as Catholic, and half those who were sacramentally-active Catholics during their last year at a Catholic college or university).

  • Sixty percent (60%) agree strongly or somewhat that premarital sex with some­one you really care about is not a sin (including 55% of current Catholics, 53% of sacramentally-active Catholics).

  • Seventy-eight percent (78%) disagree strongly or somewhat that using a con­dom to prevent pregnancy is a serious sin (including 73% of current Catholics, 69% of sacramentally-active Catholics).

  • Fifty-seven percent (57%) agree strongly or somewhat that same-sex marriage should be legal (including 53% of current Catholics, 48% of sacramentally-ac­tive Catholics).

To put it another way, for most Catholic college-age students, attending the typical "Catholic" college does not strengthen their faith or their obedience to Catholic moral teachings. Moreover, this study's findings beg the question of whether attendance at certain Catholic colleges might even undermine the students in these areas. But I leave that for others to assess.

What troubles me most about these findings are that they suggest that those November 4 exit polls, which told us that Catholics' voting patterns mirror those of the population at large, are not far off the mark. That being said, one has to wonder what, if anything, the Catholic bishops intend to do about this during their annual fall assembly, to be held November 10-13 in Baltimore.

Will they ask whether they have any responsibility for this slide away from the teachings and practices meant to make Catholics "the salt of the earth"? Will they see the correlation between failure to teach Catholic truth to one and all and the current malaise among the faithful (including those who at least attend Mass once or twice a year)? Or will they decide to "stick to their story"? It is a story we have certainly heard with increasing frequency – the same story that Pontius Pilate told.

So many bishops have claimed they can do nothing to control what goes on at a Catholic college other than make public statements decrying this or that event. Some bishops claim they cannot even do anything about the existence of clubs like GU Pride at Georgetown University, for example, because, they say, they cannot discriminate. It really boggles the mind!

One has to wonder if certain bishops were even paying attention, when during his April visit to the U.S., Pope Benedict XVI said this to a gathering of Catholic college presidents: 

“Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold. From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary ‘crisis of truth’ is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith.’”

Indeed, that crisis looms particularly large today, as we examine the reasons why so many Catholics chose to vote for the most rabidly pro-abortion presidential candidate we have seen thus far. Will the bishops consider this?

Brian Burch of Fidelis told the Zenit news agency, 

The notion of what constitutes the "Catholic vote" is widely debated. While Obama won the Catholic vote overall 54% - 45%, among Catholics who attend [M]ass every week, McCain won 55% - 43%. Clearly the main reason Obama succeeded overall was the fact that Catholic voters echoed the concerns of the rest of the electorate in citing the economy as their top issue.


But isn’t that the real problem? Mr. Burch reflects an attitude that equates being truly Catholic with supporting Republican candidates, even if such candidates embrace a watered-down, allegedly pro-life position. Is it a valid defense of real Catholics to point out that those who attend Mass weekly voted in higher numbers for a less pro-abortion Republican than for a rabidly pro-abortion Democrat? Absolutely not!

This is precisely the lesson we should learn from the CNS survey of Catholic college students. Undeniably, it is what the bishops should be studying. Half-truths are not acceptable. It is the fullness of truth that should define Catholics.

It occurs to me that the real problem here is precisely what the Holy Father said: American Catholics are living out a crisis of truth that has been brought about by a crisis in understanding and living out the faith in word and deed. Until the Catholic bishops, as a whole, address this and actually do something about it, the indicting indicators will persist and, I fear, get much worse.

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