by Edd Doerr
Self-identified humanists are just a blip on the US demographic radar, but self-identified Catholics make up nearly a quarter of the US population. So a recent poll of Catholics in the Phoenix area, reported in the May 13 National Catholic Reporter (a rather liberal bi-weekly), unreported elsewhere, is revealing.
In November 2009 St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix performed an abortion to save the life of a young mother suffering from usually fatal pulmonary hypertension. The abortion was approved by Sister Margaret Mary McBride of the hospital's ethics committee, who was later backed by hospital president Linda Hunt. Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted flew off the handle and announced that McBride was "automatically excommunicated" and that the hospital could no longer call itself Catholic.
The April 2011 poll of Phoenix area Catholics by the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington produced the following results.
By 77% to 12% respondents still regarded St Joseph's as a Catholic hospital. When the matter first became known respondents favored McBride over Olmsted by 72% to 13%. When the matter played out they supported McBride by 79% to 16%. By 59% to 20% they said that Olmsted misused his authority by saying that McBride was excommunicated. By 71% to 19% they said likewise about his removing the Catholic label from the hospital. Women favored McBride over Olmsted by 74% to 12%, while men did so by 68% to 14%. Hispanics favored McBride over the bishop by 65% to 12%, while non-Hispanics did so by 74% to 13%. Those who attended church services weekly favored McBride over Olmsted 63% to 20%, those who attended only monthly favored McBride 77% to 9%, and those who never attend favored McBride 88% to 4%.
So what? This poll and numerous others over the years, plus abundant data on actual behavior, show that most Catholics disagree with official church teaching and dogma on reproductive health issues, on clerical celibacy, on ordaining women, on divorce and remarriage, on sending
their kids to parochial schools, on diversion of public funds to religious schools, on donating to the church. Catholics tend to be more politically liberal than Protestants generally and far more liberal that evangelical fundamentalists.
So? Humanists need to take more nuanced positions with regard to the incredible diversity among people self-identified as religious.