By John Jalsevac

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 12, 2008 ( – Last April the USCCB Subcommittee on Marriage and the Family Life commissioned a poll on marriage and family issues, to be conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The final product, a poll of 1,008 self-identified Catholics, shows, as put by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the Chairman of the subcommittee, a “mixed picture.” Amongst many other findings, the poll indicated that Catholics who attend Mass frequently are the least likely to get divorced and are more likely to have more children.

“Not surprisingly, the study paints a mixed picture. It gives us reasons to be grateful and hopeful. It also raises concerns and presents us with challenges,” said Archbishop Kurtz about the poll’s findings.

What is most distressing, said Kurtz, is that the study shows that self-identified Catholics are just as likely as the overall population to obtain a divorce.

“In terms of marital status and certain attitudes about marriage, we see that Catholics are very similar to the general population. Sadly, this trend also holds true for divorce. Here both the good news and the bad news are the same: in general, Catholics are neither more nor less likely to get divorced than anyone else.”

Nevertheless, said the Archbishop, an important fact revealed by the poll is that those Catholics who go to Mass more frequently, and demonstrate an overall higher level of commitment to the faith, generally have much lower rates of divorce and are much more familiar with the Church’s teachings on marriage. On the other hand, those who rarely or never go to Mass are significantly more likely to obtain a divorce.

“These findings seem to be consistent with a general conclusion of social research, namely, that religious affiliation and practice are related positively to marital stability and vice versa,” observed the Archbishop.

Adding to this correlation between the practice of religion and successful marriages, is the finding that those who are divorced or who are currently separated are less likely than currently married Catholic couples to have been married in the Church.

There are a number of other areas of concern as well, said Kurtz. For instance, the study showed that only two-thirds of married Catholics have been married in the Church, and twenty-three percent of adult Catholics have gone through a divorce, despite the Church’s strict condemnation of the practice. Eleven percent of Catholics have been divorced and are remarried or living with someone else, which also strongly contravenes basic Catholic moral teaching.

Only one-third of respondents agreed that a shared faith is an important part of marriage. On the other hand, over 70 percent of adult Catholics said they knew that marriage between two baptized people is a sacrament, that openness to children is essential to marriage, and that the Church does not consider a civil marriage after divorce to be sacramentally valid.

There were also significant differences in terms of the age of the respondents, with younger Catholics generally demonstrating a lesser knowledge of Catholic teaching, and a lesser commitment to the faith. For instance, according to the study approximately half of unmarried younger Catholics do not consider it important to be married in the Church, as opposed to a much higher rate for older Catholics. “Older Catholics,” says the executive summary of the study, “especially those who came of age prior to Vatican II, are typically more involved in Church life and more frequently attend Mass than younger generations of Catholics.”

Interestingly, however, the study found that agreement with Catholic teaching is highest amongst older (born before 1943) and the much younger (born after 1981) Catholics, with the least agreement with Church teachings found in the middle generation.  
  Archbishop Kurtz concluded his remarks on the study by saying that the study has given the Catholic Church a better idea of where to focus its energies, and what areas of Catholic teaching are most and least understood.

“This new research on Catholics and marriage confronts us with a sense both of urgency and opportunity. It identifies strengths and accomplishments on which we are eager to build. It shines a light on challenges and difficulties which we must address.”

To read the full study, see:

To read Archbishop Kurtz’s full remarks, see: