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Pew report: Only half of America’s Catholics know what the Church teaches about Communion 

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 26, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) ― Do only half of America’s Catholics know what their Church teaches about Holy Communion? 

In a recent report called “What Americans Know About Religion,” the Pew Research Center suggested that Catholics are divided in their understanding of Holy Communion. 

According to Pew Forum, where the research company gave an overview of its findings, 50 percent of Catholics correctly answered the question, “Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion?”

The two options were “Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ” and “Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

“Half of Catholics in the United States (50%) correctly answer a question about official church teachings on transubstantiation – that during Communion, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ,” Pew reported.  

“The other half of Catholics incorrectly say the church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion are just symbols of the body and blood of Christ (45%) or say they are not sure (4%).”

Only 34 percent of all Americans surveyed could correctly answer the question, in the Pew Research Center’s estimation.

Although the belief that, during the consecration at Mass, the offerings of bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ is a central tenet of the Roman Catholic faith, one Catholic apologist told LifeSiteNews that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the findings. 

“As I recounted in ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism’ in my 12 years of Catholic teaching, I only heard one teacher bring up Transubstantiation―to deny it,” said John Zmirak via social media. “To mock it, actually, and speak of putting Hosts under microscopes to look for human tissue.”

“To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised ... to learn that the number of Catholics today who answered the question correctly was so high,” he continued. “I'd expected less.”

Zmirak blames post-conciliar religious education for the fact that so few Catholics know what the Church teaches. 

“For an entire lifetime (mine), religious education in most Catholic schools has been emotional, political, psychological,” he said.  

“It seems that middle-aged clerics and religious in the early 1960s took their own tortured existential doubts (perhaps they'd followed false vocations), and infused them into new educational programs,” he continued.  

“Instead of what young minds crave ― clear principles and hard facts ― they got wispy speculations, ‘provocative’ questions, and leftist politics. The disaster that resulted should have been predictable.”

‘It’s a trick question’

However, Fr. Paul Sullins of The Ruth Institute believes that the Pew Report doesn’t accurately reflect what Catholics know about Holy Communion. 

“It’s a trick question,” he told LifeSiteNews. “I believe the percentage of Catholics who know the teaching is higher because the answers were poorly worded.” 

Sullins pointed out that the word “actual” means something different than “real” in Roman Catholic theology, and the option “Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ” should have been rendered something like “Become the real body and blood of Christ.” Some Catholics might not have chosen it because of this confusion, he suggested.   

The problem with the second option, “Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” he said, is that the bread and wine offered at Mass are indeed symbols, as well as the real body and blood of Christ. Thus, this answer was also confusing 

“What they should have said was ‘merely [symbols]’,” Sullins explained.

Catholics surveyed didn’t seem score particularly well in overall religious knowledge, on average answering only 14 of the 32 questions correctly.

“On average, Jews, atheists, agnostics and evangelical Protestants score highest on the new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming members of other Protestant traditions, Catholics, Mormons and Americans who describe their religion as ‘nothing in particular,’” Pew reported. 

However, Sullins resists the idea that Catholics have less religious knowledge of their own faith than other Christians have of their own. 

“Only 28 [percent] of Protestants know the teaching of Sole Fide [‘salvation is by faith alone’],” he said, explaining that this is a central tenet of Protestantism.  

“Catholics know their faith better than Protestants know their faith,” he asserted.

While admitting that Catholic catechesis is in a poor state, Sullins noted that Catholics who went to Catholic school did better in the survey than those who did not. 

He also pointed out that, overall, religious knowledge in the U.S. is poor. 

“We are in a cultural process of secularization,” he said. “We have a declining state of religious knowledge.” 

As evidence of this decline, Sullins pointed to the age categories in the survey. People aged between 18 and 29 scored lowest in religious knowledge whereas people over 65 scored highest. 

This Pew Report was derived from a survey conducted online from February 4 to 19, 2019, which involved 10,971 respondents. The majority of those surveyed were from the Pew Research Center’s “American Trends Panel.” The Center describes this group as a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults recruited from landline and cellphone random-digit-dial surveys and an address-based survey. The group was supplemented by interviews with members of the Ipsos KnowledgePanel. 

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