When Pope Francis visits the United States later this month, he’ll face a population of American Catholics who are increasingly open-minded about everything from nontraditional families to sexual identity.
According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, while 90% of American Catholics said a household headed by a married mother and father is the ideal situation for bringing up children, 84% said it was acceptable for unmarried parents living together to raise kids. Meanwhile, 83% said the situation was acceptable for divorced parents and 66% said the same for a gay or lesbian couple with children.
The survey showed that there is correlation between those Catholics who attend Mass regularly and those who adhere to traditional teachings of the church. For example, among those Catholics who attend mass every week, 36% said children being raised by a gay couple is not acceptable, versus 22% who attend less often.
Pew said Catholics may be more open to other family arrangements because “Francis’ American flock is experiencing life in all its modern complexity.” In fact, the poll found that one in four Catholics have gone through a divorce. Meanwhile, one in 10 have gotten divorced but remarried, and one in four have lived with a partner without having been married at some point in their lives.
Pollsters also asked participants what they consider a sin. The survey found Catholics are split on the issue of homosexuality, with 44% saying it is a sin while nearly just as many -- 39% -- said it is not. Separately, 35% said it was a sin to remarry after divorce without an annulment, compared to 49% who said it is not. The majority -- 66% -- said it was not a sin to use contraceptives compared to 17% who said it was.
Pew surveyed 5,122 adults, including 1,016 Catholics. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 points among Catholics.
While the church teaches against divorce, contraception, gay marriage and premarital sex, Pope Francis has been breaking from traditional teachings, emphasizing instead a message of inclusion and forgiveness.
In 2013, Francis asked “who am I to judge” gay people (although he has yet to take any specific action on the matter). In August, he said the church should do more to embrace those who follow the religion but decide to divorce and remarry. And this week, the Vatican said Francis will allow Roman Catholic priests to absolve women who seek forgiveness for an abortion.
Given the Republican Party's staunch opposition to abortion, the Vatican’s latest remarks puts 2016 presidential candidates -- particularly those who are Catholic—in somewhat of an awkward position. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, told Fox News on Tuesday that Francis’ remarks were “extraordinary” but that he’s not surprised. He added, “I hope we also focus on mercy for the unborn.”
Other Catholic candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have not yet weighed in on the pope’s remarks on abortion and their campaigns did not immediately return requests for comment.
The pope will be in the U.S. between Sept. 22 and 27 and is scheduled to make stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia.