NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – When Pope Francis speaks to American Catholic audiences later this month, a sizeable number of Catholics will have already made up their minds that his teachings on human sexuality, the sanctity of marriage and child rearing aren't a good fit with their American lifestyle, a new study from the Pew Research Center claims.
In particular, the study claims that while American Catholics regard the nuclear family – a married father and mother with children – as ideal, a significant number are willing to accept other "family arrangements," such as unmarried parents living together and even gay and lesbian parents.
In the survey, 90 percent of American Catholics who responded said the nuclear family is ideal or "as good as any other arrangement for raising children." Another 4 percent said the nuclear family was acceptable "but not as good as some others."
Unmarried parents living together, American Catholics said, were also called an "acceptable" family arrangement by 48 percent of survey respondents. Another 35 percent said the arrangement was "acceptable by not as good as some others." Together, 84 percent of the survey respondents said they believed parents need not be married to provide a stable environment for children.
Most indicative of the shift in American public opinion on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, however, was the response to the idea of same-sex parents. In the survey, 43 percent said gay couples were "acceptable and as good as any other arrangement for raising children." Another 23 percent said the arrangement was acceptable, but not as good as others.
Put together, fully 66 percent of American Catholics described same-sex marriage as a platform for rearing children was "acceptable" to some degree.
Not surprisingly, responses to the survey skewed in accordance with the number of times Catholics attended mass. Among those who attended weekly, 59 percent said it was acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children. Among those who attended less often, 71 percent said the "family arrangement" was acceptable.
"Overall, Catholics are split on whether homosexual behavior is a sin. More than four-in-ten (44%, including 59% of weekly Mass attenders) say it is, but nearly as many (39%) say it is not," the study said.
Overall, 46 percent of Catholics said they believed the church should not recognize same-sex marriages, but the same number, the survey said, believe the church should.
"Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the United States will include his participation in the triennial World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. This year's meeting is expected to generate discussion on how the Catholic Church responds to new trends in marriage and family arrangements. Previous polling and analysis on the composition and structure of families has shown a marked shift away from the so-called traditional dynamic of a married man and woman raising children," a report on the survey said.
Support for same-sex marriage among Catholics has increased as more Catholics have adopted a type of "cultural Catholicism," the survey alleges. Cultural Catholics are those who do not necessarily identify themselves as Catholic, but identify in Catholic or partially Catholic in some other way – such as attending mass occasionally.
American Catholics also said they viewed divorced parenting as an acceptable family relationship, though most still regard it as a sin.