Even in the midst of Trump versus Clinton mania, Catholics are very unlikely to hear priests or deacons endorsing or disparaging specific candidates from the pulpit during Mass. But that does not mean political issues do not appear at all, as many Catholics report that they have heard sermons this summer about immigration, religious liberty and the environment.
That is according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, in which just 6 percent of Catholics attending church services over the past few months reported hearing a priest or deacon preach explicitly in support of Donald J. Trump or Hillary Clinton, and only 8 percent report hearing words spoken against either candidate.
Those numbers put Catholics about on par with most other Christian groups, with one notable exception.
About three in 10 black Protestants report hearing explicitly partisan language during church services.
The I.R.S. prohibits pastors from endorsing candidates or engaging in overt political activity lest they risk losing their tax-exempt status. That statute, known as the Johnson Amendment, has itself become a political issue this summer after the Republican Party vowed in its party platform to repeal the rule. Trump, too, has promised to support such a repeal.
In the Pew survey, respondents were asked if they had heard preaching this summer about six issues that have been talked about in political debate:
- religious liberty
- the environment
- economic inequality
Of those issues, Catholic were most likely to report hearing about immigration (41 percent) and religious liberty (38 percent), and the messages were primarily about the need to welcome immigrants (32 percent) and defending religious liberty (32 percent).
Catholic bishops have for decades been some of the strongest supporters of immigration reform, and Pope Francis spoke about the issue during his September visit to the United States, and again in February when he celebrated a Mass along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In recent years, citing developments around new government health care regulations and the legalization of same-sex marriage, bishops have made religious liberty protections one of their priorities.
On the culture war front, about a third of Catholics reported hearing about homosexuality (31 percent) or abortion (36 percent), either positively or negatively, during Mass.
Broken down by whether the message supported or discouraged L.G.B.T. issues, 13 percent of Catholics heard a message encouraging acceptance of gays and lesbians while 8 percent heard a homily preaching against homosexuality. About 10 percent of Catholics reported hearing both messages.
On abortion, 28 percent of Catholics listened to homilies preaching an anti-abortion message, while 2 percent of Catholics reported hearing messages in favor of abortion rights. Six percent of Catholics said they heard both messages.
The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last summer and polls show that most Catholics agree with the decision. But the church hierarchy remains opposed, and last week, a group of three bishops penned a blog post in which they seemed to take aim at Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, who officiated a same-sex wedding and posted about it on Twitter.
Catholics were the most likely group surveyed to hear about the environment during worship services. About a quarter (24 percent) of Catholics reported hearing a message about the need to protect the environment, while less than 1 percent heard someone preach against environmental regulations. About 7 percent of Catholics said they heard both messages.
Pope Francis, of course, has made protecting the environment one of his signature issues, devoting an entire papal encyclical to the cause. American Catholics tend to be more supportive of environmental causes as a group than other Christians in the United States. For example, about 69 percent of U.S. Catholics believe global warming is a real phenomenon, compared to 62 percent of Protestants and just 51 percent of evangelicals, according to a 2015 poll by George Mason University.
Finally, about 20 percent Catholics reported hearing issues of income inequality discussed:14 percent listened to messages about the problem of income inequality, 4 percent heard messages defending capitalism and 2 percent heard both.
Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.