The Catholic Church teaches that premarital sex, gay marriage, contraception, and divorce are wrong — but a major survey ahead of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States finds that much of his American flock does not agree.
The new poll by the Pew Research Center reveals that Americans who identify as Catholic are surprisingly open to non-traditional families, and many don’t see birth control, cohabitation, remarriage or gay sex as sins — no matter what the Vatican says.
Much smaller but still significant percentages don’t even see abortion — grounds for excommunication under canon law — as a sin.
“This may be in part because Francis’ American flock is experiencing life in all its modern complexity,” the Pew researchers wrote, noting that a quarter of Catholics have been divorced themselves and almost half have at one point done what used to be called “living in sin.”

A Pew Research Survey has taken the pulse of American Catholics ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. EDUARDO MUNOZ / Reuters

The data shows that Catholics who attend Mass weekly are more likely to stick to church teachings than those who only show up occasionally, but even among the very faithful sizable numbers could be seen as “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose which tenets to follow.
On the question of what’s a sin, the researchers found:
Cohabitation without marriage: 65 percent say say it’s not a sin, and about half that among regular church-goers.
Homosexual behavior: 50 percent of all Catholics say it’s not a sin, although that dropped to 27 percent among those who attend Mass regularly.
Contraception: More than three-fourths say it’s not a sin, including those who are in the pews every Sunday.
Divorce: Seven out of 10 say it’s not a sin; more than half of those who frequently attend services agree.
Abortion: A third of Catholics say terminating a pregnancy is not a sin. Among church-going Catholics, nearly a fourth don’t see abortion as sinful.
While Catholics say the traditional family structure of a husband and wife with kids is ideal, the survey showed that large majorities think it’s fine for kids to be raised by other kinds of families: 87 percent are accepting of single parents, 83 percent of unmarried parents who live together or divorced parents, and 66 percent of gay couples with kids.
There is widespread support among American Catholics for change in church teaching, especially on the subject …Read More