Illustration by Ena Goquiolay

Catholic and non-Catholic aligned in survey on religious freedom

  • May 16, 2018

OTTAWA – There is little difference between the views of Canadian Catholics and the general population when it comes to abortion, conscience rights and the Canada Summer Jobs attestation, according to a poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus.

The poll shows 53 per cent of those who identify as Catholic believe abortion is acceptable and 22 per cent say it should be available at any time during pregnancy. Those numbers compare to 62 and 25 per cent among the general population. 

Only 26 per cent of Catholics describe themselves as “pro-life,” compared to 22 per cent of the general population. 

There is virtually no difference between the views of Catholics and the general population when it comes to the controversial Canada Summer Jobs attestation. Fifty-two per cent of Catholics believe it is unfair compared to 51 per cent of all poll respondents.

Likewise, the percentage of Catholics who believe doctors, nurses and institutions that oppose abortions should be legally required to perform them is identical to the view of the general population at 35 per cent.

Andrew Walther, who has overseen the Knights of Columbus polling projects in North America since 2008, believes it is important to differentiate between practising Catholics and those who are non-practising. 

“Practising Catholics tend to track much more closely with Church teaching than Catholics who seldom or never attend Mass,” he said.

Walther points out, for example, that while 52 per cent of Canadian Catholics see the attestation requirement as unfair, that number goes up to 67 per cent among those who are practising.

“Practising Catholics tend to have opinions much more consistent with Church teaching, so it is very important to look at their responses for a real sense of what Church-attending Catholics believe,” he said. “The overall Catholic number doesn’t tell the whole story.  If you want to know what the people in the pews on Sunday think, the practising Catholic number tells you that.” 

The poll shows 68 per cent of Canadian Catholics (compared to 66 per cent of Canadians) were unaware of the attestation controversy, despite the bishops’ vocal opposition. They called it a violation of religious freedom and conscience to require applicants to tick a box which condones abortion rights.

“I think the fact that so few people are aware of this issue is a concern,” said Walther. 

When it comes to forcing religious organizations to sign the attestation, 53 per cent of Catholics are opposed compared to 47 per cent of the general population.

Christian Elia, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, was unsurprised by the poll results.

“It is of no surprise to me or to anybody else who has a leadership role in a Catholic group that the majority of those who self-identify as Catholic would have views on Catholic moral positions more comparable to non-Catholic Canadians than to the teachings of the Church,” he said. “This is part of the nature of Catholicism itself,  where it is seen today as more as a means of vague cultural identification as opposed to living the faith according to the Church’s magisterial teachings.”

When it comes to abortion, three-quarters of Canadians support some restrictions. Among Catholics  33 per cent believe abortion should only be allowed in cases of sexual assault, incest or if the life of the mother is endangered, compared with 24 per cent of Canadians at large.

The survey conducted from Apr. 13 to May 1 in English and French reached 1,837 respondents.

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