What Catholic Women Think

Lisa and LydiaA preliminary report, “What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception,” co-authored by Mary Rice Hasson and Michele M. Hill, offers new data about the views of church-going Catholic women, ages 18-54, on faith, conscience, and contraception. This report is part of a larger research effort called the Women, Faith, and Culture Project.

Report Highlights

  • 13% of church-going Catholic women completely accept the Church’s teachings on family planning.
  • Acceptance of the Church’s teaching on family planning doubles (27%) among young women (aged 18-34) who attend Mass weekly.
  • 37% of women who both attend Mass weekly and have been to confession within the past year completely accept Church teachings on family planning.

Take-Away: The more plugged-in a woman is to the Church and the Sacraments, the more likely she is to accept the teaching on family planning.

Middle Ground

  • 44% of church-going women express a nuanced view of Church teachings on family planning, accepting “parts” but “not all” of those teachings.
  • 53% of weekly Mass-goers who accept “parts” but “not all” of Church teachings on family planning say they are receptive to learning more.
  • These women expressed interest in learning about the health and relationship benefits of natural family planning as well as its effectiveness.

Take-Away: Many Catholic women don’t fully accept the Church’s teaching but are open to learning more. Given two-thirds are already involved in parish life, they are reachable. Encouraging!

Points of Concern

  • 85% of Catholic women believe they can be “good Catholics” even if they don’t completely accept Church’s teachings on sex and reproduction.
  • 53% of women who reject the Church’s teaching on contraception claim a personal “right” to decide the issue.
  • Up to one-third of Catholic women are simply mistaken about what the Church actually teaches about family planning.

Report co-author Hasson notes the Church is missing a prime opportunity to communicate persuasively its teachings on family planning. Although 72% of church-going Catholic women rely on the Sunday homily as their primary source of learning about Church teaching, just 15% of these women fully accept Church teaching on contraception.

Co-author Michele Hill notes, “Nine out of ten Catholic women say their faith is important to their daily lives. They want to be good Catholics. Many of them will be receptive to Church teaching, given the right message and the right approach. I can’t encourage our priests enough to present the Church’s beautiful teachings — gently, but with conviction.”

Conversation Starter: There is a receptive group of women in the “soft middle” who are open to learning more about the Church’s teaching on family planning. How can the Church better engage Catholic women who do support Her teachings with those who aren’t “all in?” You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Comments

  1. says

    For me personally, the biggest takeaway brought me back to how I first learned about the Church’s teaching about sex, marriage, and.contraception. It was ~9 years ago and a dear friend invited me to a lecture by Christopher West. His (my friend) excitement and joy about the Church’s message initially attracted me and the truth retained me.

    It was a simple invitation that opened my eyes – whom shall I invite to share in this beautiful teaching?

  2. luiz camacho says

    YOU ARE A WONDERFUL COUPLE ! SOMETIMES , I WISH FOR ME AND FOR EACH SOULS WHO HAS THE SAME DESIRE WITH ME ………… TO HAVE A GREAT LOVE !

  3. says

    Until a little over a decade, I was part of the group who simply was uninformed of the Church’s teaching on family planning. Once I learned the truth (via Catholic radio of all places), I wanted to know more and do better.

    I go back to something a wise deacon once told me: view the Church and her teachings as a gift to give away freely. How the gift is or isn’t received isn’t “on” me. Give that over to God. But give the gift away, including the gift and beauty of the Church’s family planning teachings.

  4. says

    How can the Church better engage Catholic women who do support Her teachings with those who aren’t “all in?” >> We need to be patient and pray for others. Gently show the truth. Up until my senior year of college, I didn’t see the difference between contraception and natural family planning for married couples. Couldn’t see it. There was a demarcation I just could not fathom. I went to every seminar you could imagine, devoured books, keep mulling it over – and then one day, by the grace of God, it clicked.

  5. Annie says

    This is a very interesting and challenging topic, one that I saw pretty much black and white until a few months ago. My husband and I are practicing catholics who fully embraced/try to embrace the church’s teaching on family planning. I am currently being treated for a non-life threatening cancer, but one that requires radiation treatment. A result of this treatment is a certain amount of residual toxicity that remains in my body for about nine months after each round of radiation. This toxicity would be very harmful to any child I might conceive within the time frame of when these toxins are in my system. Not only would the child most likely have physical and mental deformities, my body would have a hard time caring this child to term…possibly ending in a miscarriage with the likely-hood of serve hemorrhaging.
    My question is, what does the church say in times like these? I’ve looked in different texts and asked a few different priest and theologians about this and there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer…other than my health is more important than the possible creation of another child. Which leads to another question? What defines good health in the eyes of the church? Does cancer trump mental health, does being diabetic count as an ongoing health issue and is it OK to take contraception when the health of the mother is at risk? And, if so how do we no descend into complete relativism, and if not, than how does the church say to honor the health of the mother?

    • Sally says

      Hi Annie,
      You were probably told about the devastating effects of a pregnancy and the potential of miscarriage and hemorrhagin, etc. by informed dr.’s. However, if you did get pregnant they really can’t predict exactly what would happen. Nevertheless, perhaps this is THE time of times to actually practice NFP. Church teaching doesn’t allow for compromises. It sounds perhaps like you need to actually take an NFP course, not just practice it by reading a book….Creighton Method is excellent. Can’t get pregnant if you follow it to the T. It (and the other NFP methods) are just as effective as the pill; can’t remember the % effectiveness of the pill but I think it’s 99.__ %. Same with NFP. So, no need to compromise church teaching, which really, when you think about it, is the teaching of Jesus passed on through the apostles to the present day. And, because contraception is morally evil, we don’t want to do that. Alot of people don’t realize it’s a mortal sin, therefore one cannot receive the Eucharist in this state…Priests shouldn’t be “confused” about this. They obviously aren’t in the know with what’s in front of them: The Catechism. Theology of the Body. Humanae Vitae. I think something inside you is really looking for the truth. The Church has it!! Thank God for His Church!!

  6. says

    Three problems I have seen:

    1. Too many Catholics get their doctrine from Monte Python (Every Sperm is Sacred) than the true teachings of the Church. What the Church ACTUALLY teaches is all in the Catechism and is neither burdensome nor confusing.

    Case in point: I read the story of a Catholic woman who was supporting Melinda Gates’s contraception initiative. She used the Pill when she was first married because she felt like she wasn’t ready for a baby and had no other choice. Then she discovered NFP through a secular source. She loves it and is now “defying the Church” by using and promoting NFP!

    2. Doubts about the science of NFP. NFP IS sound science, but some NFP promoters have undermined themselves by focussing on the theology at the expense of the biology. The science can stand on its own and promoters should acknowledge this.

    3. All or nothing attitude among NFP promoters. The Church recognizes that chastity is a process. Benedict XVI has said that Jesus meets you where you are. Yet some NFP promoters demand full, immediate compliance with Church teaching…or else. Such a negative, harsh attitude just makes many couples see the Church as impossible and they don’t even try.

    The solution is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Promote the science of fertility awareness as something good for women’s health. Then share the beauty of the Church’s full teaching. Don’t push or preach, but trust in the Holy Spirit to bring the couple closer to each other and to Christ.

  7. says

    I think we have to show what it looks like to live the Church’s teachings, not just share them. I remember being told in marriage prep, amongst other things, that NFP was ‘so easy’ and ‘made marriage (and sex) so much better’. Both statements are fairly true, but when we struggled to live out the teachings, these blanket statements made me feel that I was in some way failing, or that we just weren’t holy enough.

    It wasn’t until 11 years into our marriage that my husband and I fell into a conversation with other couples. We talked about the challenges of living the NFP lifestyle. We all love it and are so thankful, but we finally heard from other couples that is was hard for them, too, at times. They were faithful, but honest about the times when they were frustrated or discouraged.

    I think we have to be real. We have to be honest with women how ask questions. We have to be willing to share the joys and the struggles. But also share the truth behind what we do. Anything hard is worth doing if we believe in the bigger picture. I think we, as women, also have to be willing to form true friendships. We can’t just teach a class or make an announcement from the lectern. Real relationships can change lives.

    And, as a convert, the Church’s teaching was the one thing that blew me out of the water. I had honestly NEVER heard anything like it before. I grew up thinking the ‘pill’ was like a vitamin. The thought never crossed my mind to NOT use contraception when I was married. So, we need to understand where these women are coming from and be patient and loving. These teachings can rock their world! :)

    • says

      Lauren, I could not agree with you more. We have a treasure in the teachings of the Church, and we need to share it freely. But you are exactly right that we need to “be real,” share honestly, and reach out in friendship to other women, and understand why they are where they are. One thing that our qualitative research (interviews and focus groups) showed is that contracepting women feel judged and misunderstood if the first line of argument against contraception focuses on why she “should” have or be open to more children. From her point of view, she’s already decided that she “can’t” have more kids right now. Long-term conscience formation and growth in generosity may help her change that perception, but that’s her starting point. What she IS receptive to is information about the benefits (emotional, health, spiritual) of following the Church’s teachings on NFP.
      As a runner, the (imperfect) analogy I keep in mind is this: I can invite a non-running friend to give it a try not by telling her that she “should” be able to run five miles, but by talking about the benefits of beginning, and then running alongside her, at her pace, to encourage her. We can talk pacing, strategy, and re-set the goal AFTER she’s begun to see the benefits and grows more committed.
      I would love to hear more about your personal story. Catholic women who would like to share their experiences can contact me at mhasson@eppc.org or director@womenfaithandculture.org

  8. says

    The Church needs to do a better job of teaching! I know it sounds crazy, but I went to Catholic school K-12 and was NEVER taught about the Church’s stance on family planning. I can understand the lower grades, but I went to an all girls Catholic high school. We should have been taught these things!

    Then, when my husband (then fiance) and I attended Engaged Encounter, we watched an outdated video about NFP that lasted all of 20 minutes. When the video was over, our leaders explained that they couldn’t really answer our questions because they didn’t practice NFP. Huh?

    It wasn’t until my husband and I decided we were ready for our first baby that I even began understanding my fertility. I read the secular book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” I found it empowering and I loved it! I STILL was unaware that this was basically NFP. And I was still unaware of the Church’s real stance on family because everyone I knew was using birth control.

    If I had been taught these things as a teenager and young adult, I know I would have embraced them because I do now!!

  9. Laura says

    I am a returning Catholic, we have been back in the Church for two years. I have to say that growing up in my generation, I am 51, I was never taught NFP and no one ever talked about it. I would have loved to have learned about this in our pre-marriage class. We were very ill informed. When I went back to confession, even my Priest lamented this. I do not excuse not finding out the facts myself or knowing the church teachings better, but still today, I see a lack of teaching. We have marriage encounter and youth programs, but I haven’t seen one program or seminar teaching NFP in the church. I also think it would be helpful to have newly married couples meet in a NFP class or small group for support. This would be easy to implement at each parish. It should be offered if we expect for good Catholics to live our their faith. I love being home to the church! I just see areas that could be so much better!

  10. angela says

    I was raised Catholic, went to mass all my life and yet never was explained the WHYs of the church teachings on marriage, sex, contraception. of course I am to blame for not trying to find it out myself. read humanae vitae for example.
    at our engaged encounter in 1990 we had like 5 minutes of NPF and then handed a pamplet from the US bishops basicly saying you can pray about it and make up your own concience as to if using artificial birth control is moral for your situation.
    we started our marriage using nfp. not really understanding that marriage needs to be open to life. I did get pregnant within the first few months. after that we went on the pill for several years till we were ‘ready” to have another child. and then back on.
    once the conctaceptive mentality sets in its so easy to make ‘excuses” why now is not a good time to have a child.
    all around me were couples, family members on the pill. going to mass every sunday. I never never heard one sermon on why it was wrong or even that it was wrong.
    yes I knew it was the ‘official
    teaching. As a result everything pope pius predicted came true. selfishness grew in our relationship , i felt used by my husband not cherished.
    oh how I wish I could go back and live our sexuality in our marriage differently. the children i should have/could have brought into the world that will never be born. I grieve the loss of them.
    priests need to stop being afraid and teach the truth from the pulpit.
    we need to educate our younger generation to not make the same mistakes.

  11. Joannie says

    Yes the Church’s leaders need to do a better job in teaching about all these things because as Cardinal Dolan said it was ” too hot to handle”in an interview earlier this spring. I have to remind people who are so enthusiastic about NFP that the Church reminds us that it is to be used only in extreme cases. It is not as many outside the Church has said a “Catholic Form of Birth Control” Only if having a child would be dangerous to health, can NFP be used. It cannot be used just because of convenience sakes or that it is more “natural” It can however be used to Achieve a pregnancy.

  12. thomas brown says

    To take contraception in my opinion ,you are saying the pope and his teachings are wrong .in my eyes you are not recognising the pope is infallible when it’s matters pertaining to the church.so we are in a state of sin when we take the pill.
    But if like me your concience tells you I’m not sinning go right a head and dont confess it and take the sacraments you are doing no harm.

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