Majority of American Catholics Have Left the Church, Pew Survey Reveals

Pope Francis prays as he leads a mass in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 12, 2015.
Pope Francis prays as he leads a mass in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 12, 2015. | REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi

Over 50 percent of Americans raised in the Catholic Church say they've left the faith at some point in their lives, according to a Pew Research survey on religion and public life.

The data further revealed that among the 52 percent who left the Church, about six out of 10 have returned at some point.

Two-thirds of the group that left the Church now consider themselves ex-Catholics and no-longer identify with the faith.

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Around 13 percent, however, still identify as Catholic, but no longer practice the religion.

For those who are still practicing, around 73 percent said they've been in the Church their entire life, and seven out of 10 said they could never imagine leaving it.

Aside from membership, Pew Research also uncovered surprising beliefs held by Catholics pertaining to families.

The survey found that a "strong majority" of Catholics said children being raised in unconventional families with unmarried parents living together, same-sex couples or single parents, is acceptable. Around 90 percent, though, preferred that children be raised with a married mother and father. Forty-three percent said it's acceptable for a gay couple to raise a child.

"Nine-in-10 U.S. Catholics say a household headed by a married mother and father is an ideal situation for bringing up children. But the survey shows that large majorities think other kinds of families — those headed by parents who are single, divorced, unmarried or gay — are OK for raising children, too," noted Pew in the analysis released just days before Pope Francis' first U.S. visit in which he'll encounter a national Catholic population largely supportive of family units not advanced or encouraged by Church teaching.

The survey also found that: "A sizable majority (85 percent) think it's acceptable for a man and a woman to live together as a couple outside of marriage, including more than half (55 percent) who say cohabitation is as good as any other living arrangement for adults. And [seven]-in-10 Catholics say married couples who opt not to have children have chosen a lifestyle that is as good as any other."

And while many Catholics hold progressive beliefs when it comes to issues involving families, the Church seems to be maintaining its traditional views, despite the change in tone from Pope Francis when it comes to divorce and homosexuality.

The Pope did, however, make changes to the Church's annulment process, loosening restrictions on Catholics who wish to remarry. The Vatican is also expected to host a meeting in October with Catholic leaders worldwide where they will analyze recommendations on family issues, including divorce and marriage.

Victoria Osteen is the co-pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. Copyright © 2011 by Victoria Osteen. All rights reserved. Used by permission. International copyright secured.

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