The Deacon's Bench

There are some pretty compelling conclusions here — and I’m sure there will be a lot of debate about what it all means.


Public outcry about the sex-abuse crisis, disdain for arrogant bishops and disagreement with church doctrine about birth control and abortion rights have not eroded the faith of Roman Catholics in Chicago, according to an unprecedented study of the archdiocese by one of the nation’s preeminent Catholic scholars.

In fact, the study, to be unveiled Wednesday, reveals an even deeper faith on the part of young Chicago Catholics who are “more at ease with the practice of being Catholic on their own terms.”


Publication of “Chicago Catholics and the Struggles Within Their Church,” made possible by Greeley’s colleagues, fulfills the original assignment Greeley, now 82, received more than 50 years ago. It is based on data from 524 Catholics in Cook and Lake counties contacted by the Survey Lab at the University of Chicago in 2007.


Among the findings were revelations that set Chicago apart from other cities and reflected national trends. For example, like most American Catholics, parishioners gave a higher approval rating to their parish priest than Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Francis George, who received an 86 percent approval rating.

In addition, 78 percent of the respondents said Catholicism is either “extremely important” or “very important” in their lives.

Greeley wrote that the survey suggests “two separate Catholic identities — an imaginative, story-telling identity and a rules identity,” commonly referred to as “Cafeteria Catholics.” Those Catholics revere the sacraments and run in primarily Catholic circles, but they make their own choices on moral, religious and political issues.

“The only safe prediction seems to be that … there will be, whether the leadership likes it or not, varied forms of affiliation with a Church most of them still love,” Greeley wrote. “Not Cafeteria Catholics so much as Smorgasbord Catholics, a rich and diverse collection of ways to affirm one’s Catholicism.”

In addition to high approval ratings for parish priests, Greeley also found that in many respects the 20- and 30-something crowds are more devout than older generations. And about 40 percent of the lapsed Catholics who have left are open to the possibility of returning to the fold, he concluded.

There’s much more. Check it out.

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