WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2012 ( – A ground-breaking study titled “What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception” offers new data that may finally lay to rest the oft-touted claim that “98 percent of Catholics use birth control.”

Co-authors of the survey, Mary Rice Hasson, a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and Michele M. Hill, say that their research revealed a “hidden opportunity” in that many Catholic women who don’t follow the Church’s teaching on contraception are open and willing to hear the truths of the encyclical which spelled out the Catholic teaching on the matter – Humanae Vitae.

“The data show that the more plugged-in a woman is to the Church and the Sacraments, the more likely she is to accept Church teaching on family planning,” says study co-author Mary Rice Hasson.

“But our research also uncovered a hidden opportunity. There are many Catholic women out there who don’t fully accept the Church’s teaching but are open to learning more about it. Two-thirds of these women are already involved in parish life. In short, they are receptive and reachable. This is good news.”

Highlights from the research include the finding that while only 13% of church-going Catholic women ages 18-54 completely accept the Church’s teachings on family planning (which knocks the “98 percent of Catholics use birth control” dictum down to 87%), acceptance more than doubles to 27% among young women aged 18-34 who attend Mass weekly. It climbs still higher, to 37%, among women who both attend Mass weekly and have been to confession within the past year.

Furthermore, the survey found a strong plurality of church-going women (44%) express a nuanced view of Church teachings on family planning, accepting “parts” but “not all” of those teachings.

Many of these women, including 53% of weekly Mass-goers who accept “parts” but “not all” of Church teachings on family planning, say they are receptive to learning more about them. In particular, women express interest in learning about the health and relationship benefits of natural family planning as well as its effectiveness.

The survey also revealed data that the authors described as “troubling.”

Overall, the study found 85% of Catholic women believe they can be “good Catholics” even if they do not completely accept the Church’s teachings on sex and reproduction.

Similarly, 53% of women who reject the Church’s teaching on contraception claim a personal “right” to decide the issue.

Moreover, the study revealed that up to one-third of Catholic women are simply mistaken about what the Church actually teaches about family planning.

Hasson points out that the Church has a prime opportunity to communicate persuasively its teachings on family planning: although 72% of church-going Catholic women said they rely on the Sunday homily as their primary source of learning about Church teaching, just 15% of these women fully accept Church teaching on contraception.

“Nine out of ten Catholic women say their faith is important to their daily lives,” notes report co-author Michele Hill.

“They want to be good Catholics. And they are a far more diverse group than they are given credit for. Many of them will be receptive to Church teaching, given the right message and the right approach.

“I can’t encourage our priests enough to present the Church’s beautiful teachings-gently, but with conviction,” Hill concluded.

The report, “What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception,” contains a full discussion of survey results and is available on the Ethics and Public Policy Center website.


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