The majority of Catholics responding to a survey by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee do not accept church teachings that ban artificial contraception or prohibit divorced and remarried members from receiving the sacraments.
They believe the church should permit same-sex unions. And they do not consider the church as the moral authority on issues related to the family.
Those are among the findings of a first-of-its-kind survey of area Catholics solicited by Pope Francis and posted last month on the archdiocese’s website.
The results of the survey, conducted at Francis’ behest by dioceses around the world, will provide the context for an extraordinary synod on marriage and the family planned by the Vatican for October.
The 1,300 respondents represent just a fraction of the 10-county archdiocese’s reported 600,000 members. And the results aren’t particularly surprising: They’re in sync with those in other U.S. dioceses that have made theirs public, and research has long suggested that Catholics mirror the broader society on many social issues.
But they do offer a glimpse of the pastoral challenges facing a church that has struggled to remain relevant in an increasingly secular society, where even many of its own members question — and at times flout — its fundamental doctrines.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki was unavailable for comment Wednesday, his first full day back after returning from a pilgrimage to Rome for the canonizations of the late Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.
Spokeswoman Julie Wolf called the results “arguably a bit of a shock to the system,” though she stressed in an email that the survey was not scientific and that the archdiocese had a short period in which to publish and promote it.
“There’s no doubt that there are people who question Catholic teaching,” said Wolf, who added that the primary responsibility of bishops is to teach, and that the survey “helps to clarify for the bishops what Catholics know and believe.”
“The bottom line is that the survey was a way to give voice to members of the church,” she said.
The Rev. David Cooper of St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee, who heads the Association of United States Catholic Priests, said the results are hardly surprising.
“We’ve known this since 1969,” Cooper said. “Once (Pope) Paul VI declined to follow the advice of his own commission on family and sexuality, which called for changes, from that point forward, ever increasingly larger numbers of Catholics lost faith in the moral credibility of the teaching authority,”