They Don't Know Much about Vatican II

By Turner, Darrell | National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 1995 | Go to article overview

They Don't Know Much about Vatican II


Turner, Darrell, National Catholic Reporter


Thirty years after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, a majority of Indiana Catholics say they don't know enough about it to comment whether its effects were more positive than negative.

This is one of the striking findings of a survey -- to be conducted on a national level this year -- done by a team of sociologists at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Known as the Catholic Pluralism Project, it is believed to be the most extensive study ever conducted of a religious group in the state. Director James D. Davidson and his colleagues are planning to replicate the questions for a national survey of Catholics, and the work is expected to begin this spring.

Awareness of the council varied by age group, with 53 percent of Indiana Catholics who were raised before Vatican II and 46 percent of those who grew up while it was in session being aware of its effects, compared with only 27 percent of those born after it concluded.

Overall, 53 percent of Indiana Catholics said they don't know enough about the council to say whether its effects were more positive than negative. Twenty-seven percent found it mostly positive, 13 percent said it helped and hurt the church about equally, and 7 percent think it has had mostly negative effects.

Amount and type of schooling were also factors in awareness of Vatican II, with the most highly educated Catholics and those who went to Catholic institutions for most of their schooling being the most aware, while those who went to public schools were least aware of the council's effects.

Awareness of Vatican 11 had an impact on commitment to the church. "The more people appreciate the council and what it tried to accomplish, the more committed Catholics seem to be," said Jan Stenftenagel, one of the researchers. "Maybe we need to put more emphasis on the council in our religious education, especially among young Catholics who did not experience it firsthand."

Questions about daily prayer, weekly Mass attendance, going to private confession and saying the rosary found that these practices were engaged in most frequently by people who have an appreciation for their Catholic identity. Two-thirds of the Indiana Catholics said they believe theirs is "the one true church," and the same percentage said they "cannot imagine being anything other than Catholic."

Age cohort was the second most important influence on religious practice. "Older Catholics were taught about the importance of the church and the need to participate in the sacraments, even when they didn't really feel like going," said Sr. Patricia Wittberg, a member of the research team. …

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