Are Catholics in the Pews Like Pew’s ‘Catholic Voters’?
Everyone agrees that the “Catholic vote” is important: it was 24 percent of votes cast in recent presidential elections and presumably determined the winners of key states. Candidates court it and pundits analyze it. But no one seems to know what (or who) it actually is.
Or even if it exists. MSNBC.com labelled the “Catholic vote” a myth after Gallup found 90 percent of Catholics split evenly between Obama and Romney. But other media, viewing a tilt toward Romney from Pew research, considered the “undecided” 10 percent, and predicted that one way or another Catholics will determine the 2012 presidency.
Then, the U.S. bishops issued a statement opposing Obamacare’s mandate that employers cover birth control. Their statement decrying an infringement upon religious freedom is distributed at Sunday Masses throughout America, and it’s interpreted as implying that Obama must go. So columnists like Michael Novak predict that (his fellow) Catholics will swing the election to Romney.
That forecast overlooks the elephant in the right-to-living room: Catholics use contraception. Many Catholics feel that wrapping religious freedom around birth control is akin to wrapping abolishment of the death penalty around mass murderer James Holmes. Neither “right to life” case is likely to evoke the sympathy of that large “undecided” segment.
Catholics who see this brouhaha as less about religious freedom than about birth control know that ship sailed a half century ago. You don’t need polls to determine how observant Catholics view birth control: the evidence is visible in the pews.
When the pill was introduced in the early 1960s, parishes had large families (like the Romneys, actually); even 10-kid families were common. Catholic women saw their decision about the pill as a moral one. Their choice to take it was made in what the Catechism refers to as “the internal forum” — consulting their own conscience and allowing it supremacy. Parish families evolved to the same size as other American families. Even our priests get it: we haven’t heard a homily advocating the church’s ban on birth control for decades. [more]