Sed Contra: Zogby’s Catholic Poll Misses the Point

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 2002

The Jesuits usually take pride in being up-to-date. Sadly though, their association with a recent poll of Catholics shows they’re willing to employ some truly outdated methodologies.

Pollster John Zogby was commissioned by Le Moyne, a Jesuit college in Syracuse, New York, to conduct a series of polls measuring Catholic attitudes. On November 16, the early results were released and published on page 4 of USA Today. Guess what Zogby found out? A majority of Catholics disagree with Church teaching on contraception (61.2 percent), priestly celibacy (53.5 percent), and women’s ordination (52.9 percent).

Zogby released these numbers without making any distinction between Catholics who go to Mass regularly and those who don’t. This despite the fact that he has admitted that Mass attendance makes a big difference in the opinions of Catholics. Yet, for whatever reason, he keeps this difference to himself. That is, except on the issue of the death penalty, where those who attend Mass are more opposed than those who do not.

Three years ago, Steve Wagner conducted a similar survey for Crisis, with one important exception: He made the distinction between religiously active and inactive Catholics central to his analysis. The results were clear: Catholics who attend Mass weekly have a significantly different attitude profile—a 6 to 12 percent difference—from those who don’t, especially on issues like contraception, abortion, and the male priesthood.

Making this simple and obvious distinction would have reversed most of Zogby’s conclusions.

Wagner also discovered a correlation between Mass attendance and the steady migration of Catholics toward the middle and right of the political spectrum. Zogby’s raw numbers ignore this significant phenomenon.

For example, if only 31 percent of self-proclaimed Catholics identify with the Republican Party, how does Zogby explain the 47 percent of Catholics who voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election? And, of course, he completely ignores the more significant number—the 57 percent of religiously active Catholics who voted for Bush.

The Crisis Catholic vote survey received wide comment in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Reporters fastened onto the distinction between practicing Catholics and non-practicing Catholics, while veteran commentators like Robert Novak and Michael Barone applauded the work.

The only negative voice came from (surprise!) Rev. Andrew Greeley in Jesuit-run America Magazine. He complained that the Crisis survey was wrong to use Mass attendance as the sole criterion of religious activity. What other criteria Father Greeley had in mind, he didn’t say.

Father Greeley, Zogby, and the scholars at Le Moyne all share a common agenda. William Barnett, a professor of religious studies at Le Moyne, hints at it: “People like the pope, but don’t want the pope telling them what to do in the bedroom.” Indeed, all the news coverage of the Zogby survey underscored the gap between many nonpracticing Catholics and the Holy Father on key issues.

Zogby himself thinks that pressure from dissenters may soon change Church teaching: “There are signs that Catholics might nudge the Church in new directions.”

His assumption—one presumably shared by those who commissioned the poll—is that the Church must conform herself to majority dissent (even where a pseudo-majority is manufactured by bad polling). This is a real shame. Observing the widening gap between religiously active and inactive Catholics provides an important lesson: Participation in the sacramental life of the Church makes a substantial difference in a person’s values and beliefs.

Certainly, it’s important to know what inactive Catholics are thinking. Nevertheless, by refusing to distinguish them from those who regularly encounter the Word of God at Mass, agenda-driven pollsters create confusion and ambiguity where there should be clarity and truth.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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