A call to action by the Washington D.C. Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic church has revealed what may be a substantial split within the American Catholic church, between church leadership and church members. Archbishop Donald Wuerl sent out an appeal to Catholics in the Washington D.C. area, and in the USA as a whole, to flood the offices of of D.C. City Council members with telephone calls in opposition to legislation that would recognize the equal legal status of same-sex marriages in the nation’s capital.
What happened next was… not much. D.C. Council members report that their offices have not been flooded with telephone calls from angry Catholics. It seems that, on the same-sex marriage issue, although the priestly Catholic leadership is dead-set against equality, members of the Catholic church don’t oppose marriage equality enough to do much about it.
Is this a gap of enthusiasm, or opinion? That is, do lay Catholics merely not care enough about maintaining marriage inequality to take action, even when church leaders demand it, or do rank-and-file Catholics increasingly regard same-sex marriage as something they don’t have any objection to?
It’s worth noting that Spain has legalized same-sex marriage, though 80 percent of that nation’s residents identify themselves as Catholic. But then, despite the Catholic church’s claims to represent universal Christianity, what’s Catholic in Europe is not the same as what’s Catholic in the United States.
A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post indicated that 46 of “White Catholics” support legalization of same sex marriage – but what about the other non-White Catholics? What makes a Catholic non-White, and do these non-Whites have a different opinion? Reports on the problematic poll didn’t cover those issues.
A somewhat better poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press uses the category of “White Non-Hispanic Catholics”, but also reports on the “Total Catholic” opinion. The results indicate little difference of opinion on same-sex marriage between Catholics of different ethnicity. In the “Total Catholic” category, 45 percent support same-sex marriage, and 40 percent oppose it. In the “White Non-Hispanic” subcategory of Catholics, 44 percent support same-sex marriage, and 44 percent oppose it. The same poll, however, suggests that most Catholics just don’t care much about same-sex marriage. Only 25 percent of Catholics indicated that they think that the issue of same-sex marriage is “very important” in terms of how they vote.
It appears that both disagreement and apathy are likely to be behind the failure of Archbishop Wuerl’s telephone campaign against equality. The D.C. Council, and other governmental bodies considering marriage equality, ought to consider that lobbying pressure from Catholic priests does not represent the political values of many Catholics.
The D.C. City Council is scheduled to vote on recognizing the equal status of same-sex marriage tomorrow.