At Odds with the Church? Roman Catholic Opinion II

As if the organizers of this week’s papal visit did not already have enough to worry about! More than three-quarters of the population apparently have no interest in the visit and oppose the state part-funding it out of taxpayers’ money, according to a recent ComRes/Theos poll (

Also, a combination of security, cost and travel considerations is causing grave concerns that attendance at the open-air events in Glasgow, London and Birmingham may be well under capacity. See, for example, the report in today’s edition of The Independent at:

Now, hot on the heels of yesterday’s ComRes/BBC survey (, which revealed doubts about the role of women in the Church and clerical celibacy, comes further evidence that Britain’s Catholics are ‘at odds with the Church’ over key aspects of its teaching. 

These new data are to be found in an online YouGov survey of 1,636 British Roman Catholics conducted for ITV in connection with a special edition of the Tonight programme on the papal visit, to be broadcast at 7.30 pm on ITV1 this Thursday, the first day of the visit, and fronted by Julie Etchingham. It will be entitled Keeping the Faith?

We will doubtless have to wait until after the broadcast for the full results from this YouGov poll to emerge, but initial findings have already appeared in a Press Association release, which is the basis of much reporting in today’s print, broadcast and online news media.

We summarize the available statistics here, giving, by way of comparison, the answers to similar questions in the survey of Roman Catholic opinion in England and Wales carried out by Gallup in 1978 on behalf of Michael Hornsby-Smith. On that occasion, 1,023 English and Welsh Catholics were interviewed face-to-face.


In the YouGov/ITV poll in 2010 only 11% of British Catholics agreed with the Church that abortion is solely permitted as an indirect consequence of life-saving treatment. A further 44% thought it should be sanctioned in cases of rape, incest and severe disability in the child. 30% believed that abortion should always be allowed, while just 6% were opposed to it under all circumstances.

In 1978 65% of English and Welsh Catholics agreed (and 24% disagreed) that, except where the life of the mother was at risk, abortion was wrong.


In 2010 a mere 4% of British Catholics agreed with the Church that contraception is wrong. 71% wanted to see it used more often to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. 23% considered that it is a matter for couples to decide whether to use contraception or not.

In 1978 74% of English and Welsh Catholics agreed (and 13% disagreed) that a married couple who felt they had as many children as they wanted did nothing wrong in using artificial means of birth control.


Only 11% of British Catholics in 2010 thought homosexuality to be morally wrong. 28% contended that adults should be free to do what they wish in their own homes. 41% wanted to see both gay and straight relationships celebrated.

In 1978 55% of English and Welsh Catholics agreed (and 17% disagreed) that the Church can never, in practice, approve of homosexual acts.


Just 27% of British Catholics in 2010 supported continuing celibacy for priests. 65% thought that priests should be allowed to marry, 16% more than in yesterday’s ComRes/BBC poll (whose sample was only one-third of the size of YouGov’s).

In 1978 54% of English and Welsh Catholics were prepared to contemplate the possibility of married priests, as one solution to the shortage of priests.


Variations in question-wording between the 1978 and 2010 surveys should make us circumspect about drawing too firm conclusions from a comparison. However, it seems evident that, on these four measures, the 1978 data already had the makings of a community at odds with the Church.

Perhaps the greatest shift in Catholic opinion on moral issues over the past thirty-two years has been in respect of abortion and homosexuality. In both cases this probably mirrors more liberal attitudes in society as a whole.

POSTSCRIPT [last revised 22 September] Topline results for all the questions in this survey for ITV, including four not featured above, have now been posted by YouGov at:

In addition, five questions on abortion and contraception were included in the same survey on behalf of Marie Stopes International. Detailed results for these (disaggregated by mass attendance, gender, age, social grade and region) are available at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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