Page 5, 1st April 1977

1st April 1977
Page 5
Page 5, 1st April 1977 — THE surveys commissioned by the Catholic Herald in January have

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THE surveys commissioned by the Catholic Herald in January have

provided the first major attempt to monitor the responses of Catholics in this country both to the external post-war changes in the wider society.

Notably these are relatively full employment, rising affluence and relative • stability, and the internal changes of theological orientation an emphasis which emanated from the Second Vatican Council, especially the emphases on collegiality and the participation of the People of Clod.

For Catholics in Britain, especially those with Irish immigrant origins working largely in manual occupations in the large industrial centres in this couhtry, one of the most significant changes of the past three decades has been the participation of their children in the op-. portunities for educational advancement through the expanded State secondary and higher education sectors and the consequent opportunities for upward occupational mobility-.

There are good grounds for believing that since the 1944 Education Act, Catholics have grown a "new middle classwhich has in recent years participated in the active life of the Church alongside an olderestablished middle class deriving mainly from recusant origins and educated mainly in the thriving Catholic public schools.

In the 12 years since the end of the Vatican Council a series of liturgical changes has been introduced with the avowed aim of encouraging a greater sense of participation in community worship.

At the same time a variety of structures for lay participation in the pastoral work and mission of the Church have been developed, even in very' unevenly, at both diocesan and national levels,

In general there has been a gradual replacement of a mechanistic model of the Church. with its stress on a hierarchy of offices, by a more organic, participative model which recognises and exploitsthe different gifts of all the People of God.

The Catholic Herald survey and parallel surveys in Scotland and Ireland for the first time provide some hard data on the responses of the "average" Catholic to these internal and external changes.

The response to the selfcompletion questionnaire has been remarkable. for a survey of this kind and is a clear indication of the deep desire of many Catholics at least to make their views heard.

Nevertheless, when interpreting the results of this survey over the weeks ahead a number of qualifications arid limitations should be borne clearly in mind.

In the first .place, the respondents are a highly selfselected .group of Catholics.

This can be seen from their profile . in Table I when Om

pared to that of a national quota sample of 368 Catholic adults interviewed by Gallup over a lour-week period in January and February this scar.

Secondly, apart [ruin the fact that the respondents are among a minority who read these particular Catholic papers, fewer than one in three questionnaires in circulation were returned. The results from this survey cannot therefore he neralised to the whole Catholic population in the counts, Respondents are disproportionately male, single, middleaged, in small households, converts, middle-class, politically conservative. and from the South-East. There is a serious under-representation of working-class Catholics, especially from the Liverpool Province.

Nevertheless, there are enough respondents in each age, social class and regional category to enable broad trends to be discerned. The 9,341 Catholic Herald respondents, with whom this article is chiefly concerned, are probably best treated as a large sample of Catholics who are sufficiently committed to the religion at the local level to read a Catholic weekly newspaper regularly.

They certainly cannot be said to be representative of those self-identified Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly. In the Gallup sample the size of this group varied from 53 per cent to 62 per cent depending on the definition of Catholic employed.

Here one is entangled in the question of the meaning which their religion holds for many Catholics. It must be admitted at the outset that this is an area which is not explored • in the Catholic Herald survey but it is one which is clearly important, notably in the interpretation of the significance of Mass preferences.

Here there are some significant differences between the 14 per cent of Catholic Herald respondents and the 25 per cent Gallup sample who expressed a preference for the Tridentine Mass.

Whereas the former group expressed consistently antichange views on the four issues of lay participation, Vatican Council changes, moves to Christian unity and the celibacy laws. this was not the case for the Gallup national sample whose views on these four issues did not differ markedly from those of the rest of the Catholic population.

A research project at the University of Surrey which is being financed by the Social Science Research Council is helpful here.

My colleagues. Ray Lee and Peter Reilly, and I have interviewed in depth random samples of Catholics in two middle-class and two workingclass parishes in London and Central Lancashire over the past two years and we have come across no evidence of a coherent ideological commitment to a model of the Church which is opposed to the shifts of emphasis and orientation since the ,Vatican Council.

Certainly many people have reservations about some changes, but there is also am

bisalence and recognition that they may he helpful for children and so on. This is entirely consistent with the Gallup sample findings, which seem to reflect a nostalgic preference for the past, mainly on the part of those who are not practising regularly anyway.

The Catholic Herald respondents; on the other hand, do appear to have a much more coherent ideological position, but in this they are not at all typical of the country as a whole.

Far more important for the future is the strength of support for a less rigid. more flexible Church, reflected in the fact that nearly halfs the Catholic

Herald respondents, presumably among the more committed Catholics. favoured the pluralistic option of Mass liturgies,

The Catholic Herald questionnaire included 23 questions on attitudes to change in the Church and eight classifiCatory questions which enabled variations in different social g. -at. to be identified.

In the weeks to come different commentators will analyse the findings in specific areas such as liturgy, ecumenism, education, pastoral responses and so oil. In the remainder of this article a few general trends indicated by the findings will be suggested.

A summary of the religious practices of Catholic Herald respondents has been given in Table 2 and of their attitudes to change in the Church in Table 3. In both tables the differences due to sex, age, age of completing full time education (TEA), social class of chief wane-earner and region (including for comparison data from the parallel surveys in Scotland and Ireland) have been given.

One important conclusion from these results is that many of our preconceptions, especially about social class and regional differences between "traditional" and "progressive" attitudes, • require considerable qualification.

On only one item, that of lay participation, is there a significant difference in the responses of those from the North and South.. There are bigger differences with the Catholics in Scotland and Ireland than there are within England and Wales, and some of these are likely to reflect variations in the social class backgrounds of the readers of the Catholic papers in the three areas.

One of the interesting findings from the survey is that there are so few significant differences between men's and women's opinions. On the other hand the picture concerning age differences is much sharper, and clearly reflects the learning of predominant religious attitudes and values in a "pre

Vatican" or "post-Vatican Church.

It is interesting to note the strength of the practices among the younger Catholics as well as their greater acceptance of a variety of changes. It is also worth noting, that the major cleavages which sharply distinguish different viewpoints do not occur consistently at the same point.

Thus, attitudes of the over and under 55s are sharply divided over preferences for silent worship and the Tridentine Mass, but the cleaveage on'ahe matter of Communion in the hand is at the age of 65 and for the Sign of Peace at the age of 45.

In general. though, it appears that new generations "of Catholics are learning to adapt to the new ways without serious difficulty and indeed with some readiness for more lay participation, ecumenical developments, change in the celibacy law., and so on.

Similarly there are variations in the attitudes of the different social classes though it can be seen that these are not as great as those between Catholics with different educational experiences.

Generally speaking, where the chief wage-earner is in a non-manual occupation. there is stronger support for recent changes in the Church. Thus, for example, twice the proportion of professionals as unskilled workers prefers Communion in the hand and the Sign of Peace.

It is important to note that the differences in the attitudes and practices of those with and without some form of further education beyond the age of 18 parallel those of the younger and older respondents. Further analysis would be necessary to separate the influence of age and education.

Tentatively one might expect younger people to be more favourably disposed to changes in the Church simple because the dominant climate of the past 10 or 15 years has favoured the renewal programme initiated at the Vatican Council. Older people, on the other hand. are more likely to look back with nostalgia on the certainties and the ways they learned in their own youth.

The renewal in the Church has encouraged the greater involvement of the laity, and this in turn has favoured those whose educational training and occupational experiences encourage or offer choice, articulation, change and participation. Since more young people are growing up with such training and experiences, this must be regarded as one of 'the major "signs of the times".

Finally, it can be seen that the North-South differences are nothing like as great as is commonly supposed. On only one issue, that of lay participation, is there a significant difference, and it seems as though the Church in England and Wales is far more homogeneous than we had ever expected.

It may be that the television revolution of the past two decades, the rapidity of modern communications and the extent of social and geographical mobility have all contributed to the reduction of the grosser forms of regional variations.

All the same, the detailed analyses by individual dioceses suggest that the winds of change have barely touched several areas of the country. With new regimes in both Westminster and Liverpool and other appointments expected shortly, it will be interesting to repeat this survey in a few years' time.

In conclusion, this survey appears to suggest, first, a general acceptance of the various changes in the Church in recent years on the part of a large majority of Catholics in

this country. , Secondly, there is a small minority of Catholics who retain a preference for the 'olderstyle Church.

hirdly, Catholicism in England and Wales is far more homogeneous than had been anticipated.

Forthly, there is a strong groundswell in favour of further changes in the Church which is located in particular among the young and the more highly educated and this constitutes the most important "sign of the times" when considering the needs and opportunities of the Church of the future.

Fifthly, this survey has raised, but been unable to answer, questions about the meaning which religion holds for different groups of Catholics: intensive and systematic research at 'parish level is necessary to explore this.

Sixthly, what needs to he considered for the future is not only conformity to an institution but the religious conversion of Catholics and the promotion of the evangelisation of late 20th century Britain. The Catholic Herald has performed an important service in raising these issues.

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