Kathryn Lopez

The pope has renounced the papal throne. Long live the progressive pope! Such are the rallying cries from establishment voices wanting to see the Catholic Church loosen up now that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to step down. But maybe people should listen to the Church's actual views.

Mary Hasson from the Ethics and Public Policy Center has been doing some unique work looking into what Catholic women know and want from their Church. It's scandalous and yet not entirely surprising that she found only 13 percent of Catholic women who occasionally attend Mass accept Church teaching on contraception.

It's not a shock given that the average Catholic Mass goer is not exactly being taught the theology and even practicality of the Catholic teaching on sexual morality. Catholics all too often see Church teaching as a litany of "No"s when, in fact, it is all about "Yes." Yes to human dignity and happiness. Yes to the respect for one another that comes from truly believing you are made in the image and likeness of God.

"On the one hand, the number is small, no question," Hasson acknowledges. "That 13 percent includes not only weekly churchgoers but also women who attend less regularly, perhaps a few times a year. However, if we look only at women who attend Mass weekly, the percentage accepting the Church's teaching on contraception goes up, doubling (to 27 percent) among young women ages 18-34. That's a sign of hope -- in spite of decades of dissenting theologians, silence from the parish pulpit and distorted cultural messages about sex, these women have heard the Church's teaching and embraced it. These women form a solid core of faithful Catholics who can attest to the personal benefits of following the Church's teaching on sexuality and family planning."

And despite the current conversation about women, contraception and religious liberty that's overtaken the government's federal health-care push, the media coverage has been such that most Americans still don't quite know what all the fuss is about. Some Catholic women have a similar relationship to Church teachings on contraception: 37 percent, in Hasson's findings, were unsure about the specifics.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.