Signs of the Times

Polls: Most Catholics Like Pope; Many Say Church Is Out of Touch

Most Catholics who responded to polls conducted to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s election on Oct. 16 said they approve of the way the pope has done his job. But many of the respondents also said they hoped the next pope would bring change, because they think the church is out of touch with modern views on birth control, premarital sex, homosexuality and other issues. Many also said they feel the pope should have done more to deal with the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Results of a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Oct. 15 showed that 79 percent of Catholics surveyed and 52 percent of non-Catholics approve of the way the pope has handled his job; 84 percent of Catholics said they had a favorable impression of the pope.


A majority of Catholic respondents gave the pope high ratings for: setting a personal moral example, 90 percent; encouraging human rights, 89 percent; preserving church traditions, 88 percent; and encouraging democracy around the world, 86 percent.

But 64 percent of Catholics said the next pope should change church policies to reflect today’s attitudes and lifestyles among members of his flock; 74 percent said the pope should have done more to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse. Sixty-two percent of Catholics said the church is out of touch with the views of U.S. Catholics.

In a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll published on Oct. 16, the pope’s anniversary, 63 percent of U.S. Catholics said they approved of the way the pope was leading the church. The figure was down from an 89 percent approval rating in 1999. A USA Today article on the poll said the drop in percentage points could be related to the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said the pope was out of touch with the modern world, and 83 percent said they were more likely to follow their own conscience than the pope’s teachings on difficult moral questions. But 51 percent said they expect the pope to someday be named a saint.

Redefining Marriage: No; Expanding Benefits: Maybe

Speaking on behalf of Massachusetts bishops, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of Worcester urged state legislators on Oct. 23 to reject bills before them that would redefine marriage or give same-sex civil unions the same legal status as marriage. At the same time, he said the bishops would be open to expanding benefits for domestic partners. Bishop Reilly testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts legislature.

Addressing several bills that deal with the legal status of same-sex unions and benefits for partners in those unions, Bishop Reilly said: I ask the committee not to pass the various bills proposing to change the public institution of marriage. Marriage precedes the state and even precedes the church.... To redefine marriage itself, or to change the meaning of spouse, as the civil union bill would do, is to deny the unique public value of the spousal bond between a man and a woman.

He said the state’s bishops can be part of a discussion about legislation concerning the eligibility of domestic partners for individual benefits, but that is an entirely different issue. Some argue that it is unfair to offer only married couples certain socioeconomic benefits, he said. That is a different question from the meaning of marriage itself.

He continued: The civil union bill before this committee confuses the two issues, changing the meaning of spouse in order to give global access to all marital benefits to same-sex partners in a civil union. This alters the institution of marriage by expanding whom the law considers to be spouses. Let’s not mix the two issues.

He called the question of eligibility for specific socioeconomic benefits an issue of distributive justice to be dealt with on its own merits. If the goal is to look at individual benefits and determine who should be eligible beyond spouses, then we will join the discussion, he said.

Last spring the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in a case, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, that many believe could result in a decision changing the state’s legal definition of marriage. In early October Archbishop Sean O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston strongly criticized any effort to change the definition of marriage. Any redefinition of marriage must be seen as an attack on the common good, he said.

English-Speaking Bishops Hopeful on Translations

Daylong discussions with Vatican officials left the presidents of English-speaking bishops’ conferences confident that future work on preparing liturgical translations would proceed without the confusion and delays that marked the work in the past. About 40 presidents of conferences and officials from the International Commission on English in the Liturgy met on Oct. 23 with Cardinal Francis Arinze, who was appointed president of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments a year ago.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, said, Everyone was very satisfied with the dialogue at the meeting, with the Vatican’s clarifications of the roles of the various bodies involved in developing and approving English liturgical translations and with plans for the future. It was very fruitful, he said on Oct. 24. It was the kind of thing that should have taken place years ago. If the bishops would have had an opportunity for a meaningful exchange as they did on Oct. 23, he said, it would have prevented a lot of heartache.... Unfortunately, in the past there was a breakdown in communication.

Most English-language liturgical translations are developed by ICEL, a body sponsored by 11 bishops’ conferences. In 1999 Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, Cardinal Arinze’s predecessor, ordered a revision of ICEL’s statutes, including a provision that the Vatican approve the people employed to develop the translations. The congregation approved the new ICEL statutes in September.

In 2001 the congregation published Liturgiam Authenticam (The Authentic Liturgy), a document that set out new rules for international commissions like ICEL and required that the commissions have their statutes approved by the Holy See. Some English-speaking bishops’ conferences objected that the document, in effect, established new laws, which overrode the Code of Canon Law’s precise indication that bishops’ conferences are responsible for liturgical translations.

Cardinal Napier and other participants said it was made clear at the meeting in October that the congregation does have competence over international commissions, and all participants agreed it was time to move forward in preparing a new English translation of the latest Latin edition of the Roman Missal, the book of prayers and readings used at Mass.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, participated in the meeting but declined to comment on it.

Anthony Ward, a Marist priest who is an official at the congregation, said there were many questions about the role of Vox Clara, a commission Cardinal Medina established to advise the congregation on the suitability of English texts submitted for approval by individual bishops’ conferences. The commission, made up of bishops, has prepared a draft document outlining principles for translation and giving concrete examples for how certain phrases should be translated from Latin to English.

The document, Father Ward said, has not been finalized, and the bishops were concerned that the work ICEL is already doing on the new missal coincide with the specific criteria the congregation will use to judge the texts. A desire was expressed that ICEL’s approach be synchronized with the congregation’s approach, and we assured them that it already is, he said.

Coadjutor Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England, president of the ICEL episcopal board, described the meeting as very good, very constructive and said, a number of things were ironed out, including the congregation’s competence over international commissions. The meeting, he said, also provided an opportunity for the bishops to express their appreciation for the work ICEL has done in the past and to explain what it is doing now.

No one at the meeting, however, could predict how long it will take to finish work on the new English missal. Bishop Roche said, It won’t take anywhere near as long as it did in the past, but he would not give an estimate.

News Briefs

In an effort to overcome centuries of division, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation has called for uniform practice with regard to the ancient Nicene Creed. That creed, which dates to the Council of Constantinople in 381, said the Holy Spirit takes his origin from the Father (in Greek, ek tou patros ekporeuomenon). In Latin, the Greek phrase was translated as ex patre proceditproceeds from the Father. Churches in the West gradually began to insert filioque into the creed, saying the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which became symbolic of the split between East and West after 1054.

The international debt is like an illness, said Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, on Oct. 24. Unless completely cured, it is bound to recur. Speaking at U.N. headquarters in New York, he said that no satisfactory solutions had been found for the chronic debt crisis, despite all the attention given to it, and the external debt of the developing countries has in fact increased.

A judge in central Italy ordered the removal of crucifixes from classrooms in an elementary school. The judge ruled on Oct. 25 that laws requiring schools to have a crucifix in every classroom showed preference for Catholicism and ignored the role of other religions in society.

The Vatican will not ban girls and women from serving at the altar during Mass, the bishops of England and Wales said after a meeting with the Vatican office responsible for liturgical matters. Altar girls are to keep the backing of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said a press release from the British bishops’ conference on Oct. 21.

Msgr. Boniface Tamani, vicar general of the Blantyre Archdiocese, said Catholics who protest what they call political sermons are being manipulated by the Malawian government. Priests must be involved in politics, as it involves issues of justice and love, he said.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Arturo Sosa, S.J., the superior general of the Jesuits, identified three “signs of the times”: secularization, the digital world and multiculturalism.
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 15, 2018
For years, the Polish church has been torn between supporting the government’s anti-migrant stance and adopting Pope Francis’ commitment to foreigners.
Melissa VidaOctober 15, 2018
The cast of “Girl From the North Country” (photo: Joan Marcus)
How did an old war horse manage to outrun a rolling stone?
Rob Weinert-KendtOctober 15, 2018
El Salvador celebrates the canonization of their patron saint—but should the ceremony have taken place in San Salvador?
James T. KeaneOctober 15, 2018