New Report: What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception


3,2,1…Get ready to talk numbers.


Remember last February when the Catholic Sistas conducted their own informal survey in response to the media claims that 98% of women who identify as Catholic use contraception? Well, some other Catholic women in Washington, D.C. have done a formal survey using the nationally-regarded primary research and consulting firm, Polling Company, Inc. WomanTrend.

Mary Rice Hasson, J.D., a Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of the Women, Faith, and Culture project together with Michele M. Hill who has been active in apostolates within the Archdiocese of Baltimore have issued a preliminary report, What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception, in which 824 church-going Catholic women ages 18-54 were surveyed.

While the data indicates that most Catholic women do not fully support the Church’s teachings on contraception, the results also do not show the sweeping rejection of Church teaching the media portrays either. This first report provides some useful insight. From their website, Women, Faith and Culture: Exploring What Catholic Women Think:

Catholic Women and Faith
90% say faith is important to daily life
72% rely on homilies to learn the faith
28% have gone to Confession within the year

Catholic Women and Contraception
33% think the Church says “yes” to contraception
13% say “yes” to Church teaching
37% say “no” to Church teaching
44% say “no, but maybe …” to Church teaching

The report shows that about one-third of church-going Catholic women incorrectly believe that couples have the right to decide for themselves the moral acceptability of contraception regardless of Church teaching. When Church teaching was explained, 44% were receptive to learning more. These results suggest the problem is in part catechetical, and that women want more instruction. Church-going Catholic women fall into three groups, the researchers found: 1) “the faithful” who say “yes” to Church teaching, 2) “the dissenters” who say “no” to it, and 3) the “soft middle” who are reluctant to go all the way either way, and are receptive to more information.

The hope for this project is that good conversations can begin about how to reach the women who identify as Catholic but reject Church teaching on contraception, and yet, still in their heart want to do the right thing. Mary and Michele also hope that the data will inspire our priests to have confidence to preach the truth on this issue. While 72% of women said that the homilies in Mass are their primary source for learning about Church teaching, more than eight in ten said they believe they can be “good Catholics” even if they “do not accept some of the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex, family planning, birth control, and reproduction.” They seem to be listening, but not accepting.

The researchers also hope that this report can help us in our approach to addressing these topics. I admit, my knee-jerk reaction is to wag a finger at the dissenters and tsk-tsk them for their rebellion, but that isn’t helpful. It’s one of those Golden Rule things. I have to remember, humbly, that I also journeyed in conversion away from a secular contraceptive mindset to a full acceptance of Catholic teaching, and it wasn’t based on one homily or one conversation about obedience. It certainly wasn’t the result of someone belittling me for my ignorance.

It was based on a search for truth that was aided by patient people who would explain what I needed to know  — firmly, but in love. It was also aided by people who taught by example. In my parish, I saw the words of the Catechism lived out and I understood, and embraced, the high importance of accepting the gift of children, and raising them in the Sacraments.

These topics have to be approached with sensitivity, focusing on the benefits for women and their relationships. They need help to calibrate their consciences, and this study provides insight into the scope of the problem. Conscience formation, the data strongly indicates, is the real issue underlying the problem, and it is cause for concern. Please take some time to read it, and file it away for reference.


Here are some more findings from the study.

The study can be downloaded in full here.

Women who worship weekly are overwhelmingly likely to agree that faith is an important part of daily life:

97% of frequent worshippers ages 18-34 agree
95% of frequent worshippers ages 35-54 agree
85% of infrequent worshippers ages 35-54 agree
82% of infrequent worshippers ages 18-34 agree

Frequent church-goers ages 18-34 also show higher rates of participation in this Sacrament, as just over one-third (36%) have gone to Confession in the past year. By comparison, only 10% of infrequent churchgoers, ages 18-34, have received the Sacrament in the past year—the lowest percentage among all subgroups.

Women’s primary sources for learning about Church teaching (total sample):

72% Homily in Mass
58% Family
55% Priests or other religious leaders
54% Memory of childhood lessons
40% The Catechism of the Catholic Church
36% Teachings from Catholic school
32% Friends
28% Church activities, not including Mass
26% Catholic news media
18% Classes about Catholicism
15% Non-fiction books, movies, or DVD’s
10% Encyclicals of Vatican documents
9% U.S. Bishops’ (USCCB) website or resources
7% Non-Catholic or secular news media
7% Catholic blogs
5% Fiction: popular books, movies, or DVD’s
4% Catholic celebrities, politicians,or public figures
1% Non-Catholic or secular blogs
2% Other (specified)
1% Bible
– Church bulletin/newsletter
– Miscellaneous
4% None of these

Note: Multiple responses allowed so totals exceed 100%

On conscience formation: 

Eighty-five percent of all women agree, 52% strongly, that dissent from Church teachings on sex, contraception, and reproduction is not incompatible with being a good Catholic.

Only 13% disagree, including just 6% who disagree strongly.

Seventy-six percent of those who attend church at least once a week say they can be “good Catholics” without fully accepting the Church’s teachings on sex, contraception, and reproduction.

By comparison, 93% of infrequent worshippers agree that being a “good Catholic” does not require them to accept the Church’s teachings on sex, contraception, and reproduction.

Why women reject Catholic teaching on contraception:

Q: “Why, specifically, do you not accept the Catholic teaching on contraception and family planning?
please select all that apply.”

53% Each couple has the moral right to decide which methods of family planning to use.
46% Couples have the right to enjoy sexual pleasure without worrying about pregnancy.
41% Natural family planning is not an effective way to prevent pregnancy or to space children.
28% Contraception is the only effective way that a couple can control how many children to have and when to have them.
28% I do not accept the church’s moral authority on the issue of contraception and family planning.
23% Family planning and contraceptive use are not moral issues.
19% Natural family planning is impractical or too difficult to use.
15% The Catholic Church has lost moral credibility to teach on matters of sex and reproduction because of the sexual abuse scandals in the church.
15% I do not think I can handle a large family.
1% I do not understand it.
3% Other (specified)
1% Extenuating circumstances
– I do not think contraception is morally wrong
– I do accept the Catholic teaching on contraception
1% Miscellaneous

Note: Multiple responses allowed so totals exceed 100%. Question answered only by women who reject, in whole or in part, Church teaching on family planning. It was not answered by women who said they accept the teaching (13%) or are unsure if they accept the teaching (6%).

Ways to learn more about Catholic teachings on contraception and NFP (total sample):

23% Testimonies from couples about the health and relationship benefits of NFP.
23% Studies that prove NFP is 97% effective in preventing pregnancy.
22% A doctor’s recommendation of NFP and its effectiveness.
22% Testimonies from couples on the effectiveness of NFP.
20% Information about why NFP is pro-woman (promotes better health and self-image and equality in relationships).
16% A homily from my parish priest or bishop explaining the Catholic teachings on contraception and family planning.
14% A homily from my parish priest or bishop encouraging couples to use NFP.
13% Medical information about forms of birth control that are abortifacient (prevent a newly conceived embryo from implanting and growing in the womb).
1% Other (specified)
* Unsure/do not understand the question
* Miscellaneous
56% Iam not interested in learning more about Catholic teaching on family planning and contraception (allowed only this response).

Note: Totals exceed 100% because women were allowed to select multiple responses UNLESS they specified that they were “not interested in learning more.”


Full report here, in case you missed up there: What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception

Website here: Women, Faith and Culture: Exploring What Catholic Women Think

  • diana hallSeptember 4, 2012 - 11:29 pm

    Wow, interesting stats….sounds like a lot of misinformed Catholics out there…and many very much a part of the subjective narcissistic me oriented society we are experiencing.

    Sounds like much CINO attitudes. Still hoping for education and true understanding, real faith, earnestly on fire to share the beauty of Catholicism and to really love the Faith and real comprehension of the Sacrifice of Christ for the Church, the World and … a little knowledge is powerful.

    Looks like we have much praying to do. And yes, to keep that Golden Rule always in mind.

    Interesting read.

    Peace & Hope


  • Lisa CSeptember 5, 2012 - 4:20 am

    Very interesting responses.I would have guessed far more would be unresponsive to the teachings of the church regarding NFP. I pray more of our priests start preaching this from the pulpit. I know priests who firmly believe these teachings but never speak about it in their homilies….this survey says something very profound about how very important and valuable their teaching on Sunday is.

    Thanbk you, for a well written article!ReplyCancel

  • WEDNESDAY EVENING EDITION | Big PulpitSeptember 5, 2012 - 4:00 pm

    […] New Report: What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception – Stacy Trasancos PhD, Catholic Sistas […]ReplyCancel

  • bill bannonSeptember 6, 2012 - 6:33 am

    I’m stunned that the Bible as source of Church teaching is 1%. I will be stunned for the next few weeks. After 16 years of Catholic school, 8 with priests and brothers as teachers, I thereafter read the Bible cover to cover and then the Summa T. almost cover to cover (I skip the objections). The Summa T. by Aquinas is the last bible saturated Catholic tome. I loved the whole experience.
    I’m stunned. I’m bookmarking this page. I’ll be re-stunned whenever I reread these stats. Our homilies contain broad generalizations which Vatican II tried to correct by urging priests to read the Scriptures, the Fathers and approved theology. How can broad value generalizations be the main source for 72% of women. And we are not in the Dark Ages when few can read. Many women read 700 page novels and will die having read 5% of the Bible. The fear of God is nurtured by the Bible and rarely by homilies in my area…nor by the catechism, another big statistical source, in the powerful way that it is nurtured by the Bible.
    On sex, it’s more complicated than the net ever gets on dogmatics. But if you want change, you’ll need fear of the Lord in Catholics and they just had two Popes in a row who opined that we cannot be certain Judas is in hell. Augustine and Chrysostom said he certainly was in hell because their primary source was Christ’s words about Judas….all dire and inappropo of someone bound for glory.
    Who has about a 95% obedience rate in sexual matters to each other… with no Pope? The Amish. They have community and they have the Bible. They don’t have the Eucharist but God apparently helps them in His wisdom in light of all western history. A man murdered their children in a little school and they consoled the parents of the man immediately.ReplyCancel

  • Stacy TrasancosSeptember 6, 2012 - 7:20 am


    Some interesting thoughts. I am also stunned, and appreciate the honesty of the researchers. At least they did the study to look for real problems to find real answers. Thanks for your insight.

    “Many women read 700 page novels and will die having read 5% of the Bible.”

    Good point. There’s something to that.

    What can we *do* to engage these women. I agree — fear of the Lord — realizing Heaven and Hell are real, certainly changed my perspective.

    Just some thoughts. You’ve given much to think about. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • bill bannonSeptember 6, 2012 - 8:08 am

    I came via big pulpit. I hope you get tons of new readers via Tito. This posting is a keeper. Thank you for your work for Christ in general and as you know, I think differently than you. I rarely bookmark blog threads…French bistros near me constantly…so I’m putting you next to Buvette’s in the west village nyc. where we’ll be going after a several month harsh diet and workouts…once it’s fall and on a sunny day with in my case jeans, an Irish sweater tucked in and leather suspenders over it and a debit card. Fall…a great season and a bad theological moment very long ago.ReplyCancel

  • Stacy TrasancosSeptember 6, 2012 - 8:27 am


    Thank you! I remember you because you’ve commented on my blog before. Thank you for what you do too. I can see you relaxing at the bistro now! 😀ReplyCancel

  • bill bannonSeptember 6, 2012 - 9:45 am

    Keep Buvette’s blog as a recipe source and as an eye candy break as to photos…and yes, when I’m mean and lean, I’m having their coq au vin and duck confit, each in a tiny black ironware pot with wine…right now I have a tea saucer of carmelized vegetables for lunch and supper but breakfast is decent size:

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  • […] to think of what will come next in the following weeks and months. There’s a report I’ve been promoting this week, and the timing is undoubtedly […]ReplyCancel

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