The results of Bondings 2.0’s readership survey on whether attitudes and acceptance of LGBTQ people have increased or decreased in the Catholic Church over the past four years are in! Readers responded to a short series of six multiple choice questions about attitude and acceptance changes, segments of the church, and criteria for evaluating increases or decreases. You can view all the results by clicking here.
At least 162 people responded to the survey. Because of the way the survey software is structured, each question is considered a separate survey. Not all respondents answer all the questions, so the numbers for each of these questions vary. Question #1 received the most responses: 162.
Below is a report of the results, with commentary and interpretation for each section. Of course, we would like to know your interpretation of this data. Please leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.
Overall, it seems that respondents feel that attitudes and acceptance have increased in the church as a whole. 24% of respondents reported an increase, while only 8% reported a decrease. 5% said levels have stayed the same. While the percentage of those reporting an increase is not very large, it is supplemented by the fact a write-in response in the “Other” answer choice garnered a large number of votes reflecting a mixed answer: 19% said there were “increases in the laity; decreases in the hierarchy.” Additionally, another write-in, which said the changes are “very uneven; reaction to Fr. Martin’s book was discouraging,” attracted 12% of respondents.
Commentary and Interpretation: While people seem to see a more favorable trajectory occurring in the church, that trajectory is not a very strong one. The negative effects of hierarchical opposition to LGBTQ issues, as well as the awareness that voices of conservative Catholics are still given credence (the case of Fr. Martin’s book), show that there are still segments of the Catholic Church who do not accept a positive message on LGBTQ people.
The second question, which asked if the attitudes of Catholic people in the pews has changed, had the most definitive response of any question in the survey. 61% said they think lay people’s attitudes have become MORE accepting, with only 7.5% seeing less acceptance. About 18% of respondents felt levels stayed the same.
Commentary and Interpretation: The high number is no surprise. Over the past decade, the Catholic laity (at least in the U.S.) have consistently polled positively when asked about LGBTQ issues. The people in the pews are obviously leading the way in the church on LGBTQ issues. The change at the grassroots means that eventually change will have to take place at higher levels of the church.
When asked if they thought the attitudes of church leaders they encounter regularly (pastors, teachers, administrators) have increased or decreased, the answers provided a hair-width lead for those feeling this group has become more accepting (35%). 34% felt attitudes stayed the same, while 22% of respondents saw less acceptance.
Commentary and Interpretation: The responses to this question were the most surprising. That an almost equal number of respondents saw both an increase and felt that things stayed the same could suggest that the church’s “middle managers” are not really speaking out more on LGBTQ issues. The 34% response for attitudes staying the same was the largest number of any of the “stayed the same” responses.
The second highest response in the survey was for the question which asked about the attitudes of the bishops and hierarchy. 44% said that they thought the hierarchy’s attitudes have become less accepting, while the ideas that they have become more accepting or that their attitudes have stayed the same each received 23% of the votes.
Commentary and Interpretation: It looks like the “Francis effect” on LGBTQ issues may not be as strong as originally thought. Despite some positive statements and gestures from the pope and some of his bishop appointees, almost half of the respondents still feel that the hierarchy is moving in a negative direction on LGBTQ issues. I wonder if perhaps hurtful actions such as the ones we have seen this past year from Bishops Paprocki and Morlino have more power over people’s perceptions than do the positive statements from people like Cardinal Marx, Bishop McElroy, and Cardinal Tobin, to name a few.
Those who responded that they believed attitudes and acceptance have decreased were asked what criteria they used to make their evaluation. 21% reported that “more frequent insensitive statements from church leaders” influenced their thinking. 17% said they felt that “more news reports of incidents of church bias and discrimination concerning LGBTQ people” was a factor.
Commentary and Interpretation: One thing I find interesting about these data figures is that they are so close to each other not only in the number of respondents but in the qualities they describe. It shows that messages in the media, whether they be bias incidents or leadership statements, have a great effect on people’s perceptions.
For those who felt that attitudes and acceptance have increased, the following criteria were noted as significant: “More positives statement from church leaders in support of LGBTQ people” (15%); “people in the pews being more outspoken in their acceptance” (12%).
Commentary and Interpretation: Similar to my thoughts in the previous commentary section, positive statements from leadership also seem to have an effect on people’s perceptions. However, it is interesting that people are also influenced by hearing positive statements from their friends and neighbors in the pews. That’s an important lesson to remember: speaking out for LGBTQ justice and equality, even if only to your family, friends, and neighbors, can have a big impact on people.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2018