Pluralism Among American Catholics

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Sun, 01/01/1989

The Catholic Pluralism Project was initiated in 1989 as an effort to describe and explain the diversity of religious and moral beliefs among Catholics in ways that will be useful to bishops, priests, and educators. The project's director, James D. Davidson of Purdue University, assembled 18 researchers, lay and ordained, liberal and conservative who designed and implemented studies to measure the extent and discover the bases of the diversity in opinion that confronts church workers every day. Pluralism is one of the outstanding characteristics of contemporary Catholicism, and it needs to be understood if pastors and educators are to respond effectively to the religious needs of the Catholic community. The goals of the pluralism project are to provide accurate data showing what Catholics actually believe and practice, their understandings of moral issues, and the social and religious antecedents to the current pluralism within the Catholic Church. The bulk of the study is concerned with the two-thirds of those American Catholics who identify themselves as Catholic and who also belong to a local parish. The researchers began by interviewing individual Catholics, progressed to focus groups and a statewide questionnaire of Indiana parishioners, and concluded with a national telephone poll of 1058 adult Catholics conducted in 1995. Because of the importance of formal education, the role of examples, and other experiences, and because the Church has seen significant changes during the past half-century, particular attention is paid to the generation or birth-cohort to which different Catholics belong. "Pre-Vatican II Catholics" were born in 1940 or before, and were formed in an environment that stressed the unique nature of the Catholic Church and obedience to its teachings. "Vatican II Catholics" were born between 1941 and 1960 and were formed in a Church undergoing massive and often confusing transition. "Post-Vatican II Catholics" born between 1961 and 1976 have been formed entirely in the context of the post-conciliar Church. The dramatic changes in the Catholic Church that occurred over this period resulted in very different formation experiences for each of these cohorts. The study finds that such a generational analysis is essential to an adequate understanding of pluralism within the American Catholic Church. The results of the Catholic Pluralism Project will be published in 1997 as Catholic Faith and Morals, by James D. Davidson, Andrea S. Williams, Richard A. Lamanna, Jan Stenftenagel, Kathleen Maas Weigert, William J. Whelan, and Sr. Patricia Wittberg.