Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Surveys of Opinion. How Reliable are They?

Following a comment from Patricius on my last posting, I decided to track down some more information about the apparent dissension of some Catholics from key Catholic moral teachings. Here is the information regarding the recent survey of Catholic opinion and a comparison with the 1978 survey by Michael Hornsby-Smith. I would suggest that it is too easy to dismiss such polls as entirely unreliable because of the limited number of people questioned. Such surveys (this was done by YouGov) are done professionally with a view to providing a genuine snapshot of opinion. Allowing for discrepancies and some obvious and unavoidable inaccuracy, we still have a fairly reliable, even if limited, view of Catholic opinion. After all, surveys regarding political opinion are often correct - sometimes startlingly so. Cases of complete or serious inaccuracy are actually rare today given the professionalism with which such surveys are taken. Having said all that, I hope the conclusions drawn from the survey are wrong, I hope I am wrong, and I hope most Catholics do accept teaching on these issues. Experience however, and information received from other sources, suggests that the conclusions are basically correct.


  1. Just a couple of points on this and your previous post, the answer to Huw Edwards questions could not be answered in a 'sound bite' as is normally expected in such interview questions which may explain the Archbishop’s lack of vigorous response. On the other hand, a priest recently offered me an insight why Pope Paul was wrong with Humane Vitae as most people ignored it anyway. His answer was that the Church should allow people to operate in this area with their conscience and not with fixed rules.
    With such comments how can simple layfolk make sense of the Church’s teaching in this and other areas?
    Some years ago, another priest, during a homily, said that no one should worry about the next life as we were all going to Heaven anyway. No mention of judgement or sin, as achieving Heaven was presented as a ‘given’.
    Recently this same proposition was repeated by another priest who said basically the same thing on the understanding that if we didn’t get to Heaven, then Christ dying on the cross was a waste of time.
    Sometimes I am unsure how deep the lack of Catholic teaching goes?

  2. You make some fair points, Father, and I am in full agreement about the need for catechesis. On the other hand I feel that this point about dissent has been pushed for so long that it has become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that we need, as one of the ads on telly says, to "believe in better". It may be true that a majority dissent but it is far from being the whole truth. Yes - people who do surveys of public opinion may be professional but they are not always right (e.g. 1992). The media would have us believe that the practice of religion, particularly Christianity, is in terminal decline but, bad as things seem in some areas, there is a bigger picture and we need to remind ourselves of it. I switched the programme you referred to on at about the half way point last night and I was struck at once by how Archbishop Nichols was faced by two scoundrels and accompanied by a politician. Knowing which battle to fight at any given time must be difficult. One of the most heartening things about the Papal Visit has been the numbers of Catholics turning out to support the pope in the face of the hostility and indifference of which media comentators were so certain.

  3. I accept what you say Kevin about the Archbishop's difficulties. And I take your ponts Patricius. On the other hand, all the bishops, and all of us should expect to face such things now, and we need courage and clarity - or, rather, the Catholic listeners do. The Archbishop must have known what to expect, since both the lady and the academic had already had their say about the Church and the hierarchy, and the he must have known that. I certainly do not envy any of the bishops, but we need strong and confident leadership. We also saw Bishop Conry on Newsnight unable to answer for himself or the Church. At one point he looked like a firghtened rabbit caught in headlights. His performance was embarrassing. I am the last person - as others know - to criticise bishops or my fellow priests, but if we are going to move on with hope - as we must, then we need to be honest and recognise where we are going wrong. We cannot return to the situation before the Pope's visit - some changes are necessary for all of us, and one of the changes we badly need is strong leadership. I pray for our bishops that God will give them courage and that the Holy Spirit will give them the words they lack. We cannot go on as we did before; the Pope's challenge means change - renewal - and just as we cannot look to the bishops for all of this, so they should not look at their priests or the laity expecting everything to come from them. We all have our part to play, but if the Catholics of these countries do not get the leadership they deserve and are entitled to the road ahead will be that much more difficult. I am trying to be fair about this, but the writing has been on the wall for too long and things have to change.

  4. "...the writing has been on the wall for too long and things have to change."

    I am with you here, Father, 100 per cent. Everything the Holy Father did was marked with courage. He went directly to the point- he was courteous but direct. In Westminster Hall he mentioned St Thomas More and in the Abbey declared himself St Peter's successor. on Sunday he ("Don't mention the war!") addressed the Battle of Britain. There was no fudging, no keeping quiet about contentious matters.What an example to us all!