As Pope Benedict XVI prepared for his first papal visit to the U.S., Beliefnet conducted a survey of U.S. Catholics. While the survey is not a representative sampling, it offers insight into the American Catholics that Pope Benedict will encounter. The1,502 survey respondents were personally religiously observant, agreed with the Church on some key positions like opposition to the death penalty, but disagreed with Church teachings like opposition to artificial birth control and the requirement of a celibate priesthood.

Religious Observances and Church Policies

Traditional religious observances, like attending Mass and regular prayer, were important to the respondents. A significant majority, 68.8 percent,  attend Mass once a week or more, and 54.2 percent said they pray more than once a day. Of the 54.7 percent who go to confession, 46.7 percent go more than once a year, and 65 percent of those responding said they have a favorite saint. 

While they have a personal religious practice, they  are concerned about the Church. When asked about the state of the Catholic Church in the U.S., 42.3 percent said the Church was "in serious difficulty."  And when it comes to Church policies, most do not agree with the Church on a celibate preisthood.  Asked whether priests should be allowed to marry, 71.5 percent said yes.  Most, 71.5 percent ,agree with the U.S. bishops in their call for immigration reform, and 73.7 percent oppose the death penalty.

Sexual Morality

In issues of sexual morality, our poll respondents disagreed with Church positions on some basic issues. A vast majority, 73.8 percent, do not believe that artificial contraception is sinful and 59.4 percent say that they have used artificial contraception. More than half, 68.6 percent, think Catholics who support abortion rights should not be denied communion, and 79 percent say that Catholics who are divorced and remarried should be allowed to receive communion. Yet, in some areas, respondents do follow Church positions. Almost 57 percent do not support marriage or civil unions for gays and lesbians and 58.7 percent do not believe the Church should bless homosexual couples.

Women and the Church

The question of the role of women in the church varied. In the survey, respondents were asked to check all the possible roles for women in the church.  Of the 428 respondents to that question, 81.5 percent chose Eucharistic minister and related offices. 

The Sex Abuse Crisis

While Pope Benedict is not expected to address the role of women in the Church during his U.S. visit, the Vatican has said he will address the sexual abuse crisis. A majority of poll respondents believe this is important.  Sixty-six percent say the Catholic bishops have not done enough to address the crisis and 64.2 percent say the pope has not done enough to address it.

Yet, when asked if they agree with those bishops who say the Church has turned the corner on the crisis and should talk about the future, not the past, 53 percent agreed.

Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II

As for Pope Benedict himself,  he still lags behind Pope John Paul II in terms of his overall perception. When ranking the popes,  30.7 percent rank Pope Benedict as a good pope, while 60.4 percent rank Pope John Paul II as one of the greatest. Yet, few seem surprised by Pope Benedict, with 54.3 percent saying his exactly what they expected, neither more liberal or more conservative.

Among the survey respondents, the largest group, 40.2 percent, were between 45 and 60 years old. Women accounted for 65.3 percent of  the respondents, and  33.8 percent live in the Northeastern United States.

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