When it comes to politics, Catholics report hearing about immigration and religious liberty most

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.

RELATED: Republicans Push for Pulpit Politics

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
  • homosexuality
  • abortion
  • immigration
  • 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.

RELATED: Bishops Respond After Biden Officiates a Same-Sex Marriage

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.

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Kenneth Michaels
2 years ago
Good article. However, not entirely accurate. A good friend of mine just left the Church, Rockford, Illinois Diocese, because two priests are extraordinarily political from the ambo. The final straw was when one of the priests said during mass that anyone who is a Democrat or ever supported President Obama cannot be a Catholic. So he left. Similarly, in 2012, I was told by the Knights of Columbus that I am not a practicing Catholic (notwithstanding being a extraordinary minister and lector) because I supported President Obama. I still have the emails. I'm still actively involved in the church, but have very strong beliefs that the Catholic Church in the United States should not be granted any tax exemptions whatsoever. They are a political, as well as religious, organization and need to pay taxes like everyone else.
ed gleason
2 years ago
All weekday Masses in my parish has 100 men/woman homeless sleeping in the back of the church. Our Masses always have preaching 'and when necessary we use words' http://Thegubbioproject.org/video
Lena Dalvi
2 years ago
I guess it is really questionable when one leave its faith that easily and very quickly when your priest ask you to weigh why you would support a president whose position is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Your faith must not be that important to you if you are very quick to walk away? I think that was why the priest said what he did?
2 years ago
Good point about the tax exempt status. I have to feel that the ignorant priests (or Knights of Columbus) who say one cannot be a Democrat and support President Obama and be a Catholic are in the minority. At least I hope so. As a lector and a Faith Formation teacher, I have to say if my local pastor said something similar, I would have it out with him. A number of years ago, the priest in the pulpit attacked public schools, where I have spent my professional life. I went up after Mass and told him he didn't know what he was talking about, and that he should be ashamed of himself. If one looks at the capabilities of priests in a normal distribution, there will always be outliers one or two standard deviations from the mean. Hopefully these politicized, pathetic priests are few and far between. I woudn't let them mess with my faith, however. Unfortunately, sometimes the Cardinals, like Cardinal Dolan of New York, think they are political leaders instead of spiritual leaders. They overlook or minimize clerical sexual abuse scandals and focus on attacking the President, such as when Dolan was head of the USCCB.
Henry George
2 years ago
There has been much made that the Church should not preach on politics. However, the Church was faulted after World War II for not preaching more strongly about the evils of Nazism, the Extermination Camps, the Bombing of Dresden and the use of Atomic Bombs. In some sense if you do not preach against the evils carried out by Politicians and allowed to be carried out by our Laws are you not failing to stand up for the "Love of God for His Creation" ? Why aren't Pastors making it quite clear that when an healthy mother aborts a healthy babe for convenience it is akin to murder ? Why don't Pastors reminds us, as often as necessary, that we have an obligation to help the poor - day in and day out ? Why aren't Pastors telling us that to stand by why Homeless people suffer is a grave sin ? Why is the Church silent when these and other evils need to be spoken out against - again and again ? Would you have had the German Church speak only once a year against the Extermination of all those the Nazi's held to be "Undesirable" because speaking too many times against such evils - hurts the tender ears of your congregation...
John Dewey
2 years ago
I am a member of a very progressive congregation, St. Monica's in Santa Monica. We have an LGBT outreach program and the church held a vigil in remembrance of the mass shooting in Orlando. That being said, the bulletin does include information on the "redefinition" of marriage. I was raised in the Boston area and have always considered myself a "Kennedy Catholic" more focused on the social justice aspects of our faith. I remember in 1988 the priest that was leading my confirmation class was voting for Jesse Jackson for president. Oh how times have changed.


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