US Catholics: Viva Pope Francis, but with Room to Stray

Manila Bulletin, September 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

US Catholics: Viva Pope Francis, but with Room to Stray


by Daniel WOOLLS

Washington, United States | AFP -- US Catholics are giddy over Pope Francis's upcoming visit to America. This is a look at who they are and at their attitudes toward the pontiff and key Vatican teachings.

In a word, given their position as Catholics in a largely non-Catholic country, they stray somewhat from Vatican doctrine on issues like gay marriage, celibacy for priests and birth control.

Still, the reform-minded pope's aura as a pomp-free man preaching compassion, forgiveness, concern for the poor and even climate change has resonated with American faithful, as it has with Catholics around the world.

"He is much more like the carpenter from Nazareth than a Roman emperor," said Thomas Groome, a professor of theology at Boston College. "He genuinely deserves the kind of notoriety and acceptance and rock star status he has achieved."

-- WHO ARE THESE AMERICAN CATHOLICS, ANYWAY?

As the United States is largely a Protestant nation, American Catholics are different from those in traditionally Roman Catholic Ireland or Italy, say, where being nominally Catholic, church-going or not, goes hand in hand with being Irish or Italian. Theologians call that cultural Catholicism.

Many American Catholics, on the other hand, make their faith more a matter of choice and conviction, Groome said.

Still, being Catholic in a big pool of Protestants and followers of other religions makes them insecure about their image: as citizens, they ask, will others think we are ultimately beholden to the Vatican, or to the US constitution?

Listen to John F. Kennedy, America's only Catholic president, addressing skeptical Protestant ministers in a campaign speech in 1960: "Contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic candidate for president, who also happens to be Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me."

-- POSITIONS ON HOT BUTTON SOCIAL ISSUES

So, as the odd man out, the US Catholic often strives to fit in on social issues -- "to prove themselves super-American," in the words of Chad Pecknold, associate professor of theology at Catholic University in Washington.

That means many track with broader American moral sensibilities, especially involving sexuality, that do not at all mirror church teachings, Pecknold said.

To wit:

- HOMOSEXUALITY: 39 percent of US Catholics say homosexual behavior is not a sin, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll; the Vatican calls such acts "intrinsically disordered." Sixty-six percent say it is OK for a gay or lesbian couple to raise children.

- BIRTH CONTROL: The same survey says 75 percent of Catholics feel the church should allow artificial birth control, which the Vatican bans. …

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