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Special Report

American Catholics still seek greater role

The Editors

Who are we who call ourselves Catholic?

Most of us would probably say we know full well who we are. Yet our answers to so many questions would be different, certainly, from those of our parents or grandparents. Or our neighbors.

Following is a special report on a survey done by four leading sociologists who have long experience in researching things Catholic. It is the third in a series of surveys, conducted with the support of NCR, investigating the attitudes and practices of American Catholics.

Some might say surveys are unnecessary, that Catholics, through tradition and church teaching, know all they need to know about how to be Catholic. Yet surveys also show how diverse individual Catholics are, how they evolve, how they aspire and react to reality until eventually the totality we call the church is a little different from what it was before.

And, indeed, the church has changed dramatically in the last half of this century in ways that continue to affect the formation and attitudes of Catholics. Over the 12-year span of these surveys new forces and issues have arisen -- persistent questions, for instance, about Catholic identity and new possibilities that spring from the growing population of Hispanic Catholics in the United States.

Older questions -- about the role of lay people, and especially women, and the status of inactive married priests and whether they present an answer to the ever-worsening priest shortage -- continue to engage the minds of active Catholics.

As the activities at the European Synod in Rome show, even at the highest levels of the church debates continue -- and sometimes rather sharply -- about authority, the role of lay men and women and about ordination.

James Joyce’s inspired description of the Catholic church, “here comes everyone,” takes into account the untidy, motley collection we all are. This survey and these reports don’t by any means say the last word about us, but they put a little shape on who we are as a group at this special moment in world history.

National Catholic Reporter, October 29, 1999