Sociologist says good news outweighs bad

WASHINGTON – The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate honored sociologist James D. Davidson of Purdue University in Indiana and Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco, former U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesman, for their contributions to church research.

In a talk before CARA’s annual awards dinner Oct. 3 at Georgetown University in Washington, Davidson said there is much more good news than bad about U.S. Catholics.

The picture that emerges from his 40 years of social research on religion in America shows a Catholic laity that for the most part is involved in the church, knows and affirms its core teachings, is highly educated and is sophisticated in relating faith to public life, he said.

Monsignor Maniscalco, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., was USCCB director of media relations from 1993 to 1994 and secretary of communications from 1994 to 2006.

In remarks during the dinner he quoted from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

“I think that is true of communities as well,” he said. He praised CARA and others who engage in social research on the church for helping it to live an examined life.

CARA, an independent Catholic research agency founded in 1964, has been affiliated with Georgetown University since 1989.

In his talk Davidson said that when news media put the focus on Catholics who are dissident, religiously illiterate or anti-hierarchical, they distort the broader picture of the majority who know and live their faith well.

“American Catholics are the most highly educated laypeople in the history of the church,” he said. “Two-thirds have more than a high school education and one-third have advanced degrees.”

He said numerous studies show that Catholics tend to distinguish between core church teachings and matters less central to the faith, and where surveys find a lack of consensus among Catholics it is on those less central issues.

“Not only do Catholics today have an instinct for what is most important, they also affirm those core beliefs and practices,” he said.

Monsignor Maniscalco is currently director of the Rockville Centre diocesan Respect Life Office and adviser to Rockville Centre Bishop William F. Murphy on public policy issues.

As the U.S. bishops’ secretary of communications he played a major role in the development of their June 1997 national Pastoral Plan for Church Communications and the follow-up strategic plan that November to implement it. An integral part of both plans was use of market research and other social science tools to help determine priorities and resource allocations in national and diocesan communications.

When the clergy sexual abuse crisis hit the church in 2002, his secretariat commissioned CARA to conduct a series of surveys on how the crisis affected Catholics and their relationship to the church, running from early 2002 through this year, because he thought it was important to have solid data to help the bishops develop their response to the crisis.

“The results were sobering, but they did not necessarily support the more apocalyptic visions that the media and others saw in the night,” he said.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.