A study by the Public Religion Research Institute released in August on the beliefs of American Catholics has found that despite the Church's teachings, they support same-sex marriage and abortion just as much as the general population. What is more, a large percentage of Catholic respondents mistakenly believed Pope Francis has backed gay marriage.
A profile on American Catholics shared by PRRI noted that they make up roughly one in five, or 22 percent of all American adults, with 59 percent of Catholics categorized as white non-Hispanic, while 34 percent identifying as Hispanic.
When asked about whether gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right to marry, 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics said that they are in favor - compared to 55 percent of all Americans.
Similarly, 51 percent of Catholics said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases — with 53 percent of the general population saying the same.
The views stand in contrast with the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which defines marriage as a union only between a man and a woman, and strongly opposes the practice of abortion.
While American Catholic views of Pope Francis remained favorable, they also revealed great confusion about where he stands on issues such as gay marriage. As many as 49 percent of Catholics who backed gay marriage also believed that the pontiff has backed the practice, and even 15 percent of those opposed to same-sex marriage believed the same.
The survey, which was based on a total sample of 1,331 interviews conducted between Aug. 5-11, noted that there was a deep partisan divide on issues, with roughly one-third of Republican Catholics supporting abortion in all or most cases, compared to nearly two-thirds of Democratic Catholics saying the same.
Catholic groups in America, such as the The Little Sisters of the Poor, have been involved in court battles with President Barack Obama's administration, seeking exemption from the federal birth control mandate, which is forcing them to provide employee healthcare plans that include free contraceptives.
Pope Francis has spoken out both in favor of the Catholic definition of marriage and its views of life, though an ongoing petition from the conservative Tradition Family Property Student Action has called on the pontiff to clarify the "widespread confusion" in society over the Catholic stance on hot-button issues.
"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," said John Ritchie, director of Tradition Family Property Student Action
"Young Catholics — even non-Catholics — look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."
The petition, calling on Francis to speak out at the upcoming Synod on the Family in October, has been signed by over half a million people, including five cardinals, 117 bishops, and hundreds of civil leaders.