In a recent appearance on Meet the Press, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who until recently was head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, shared his views about what he believed was the primary problem confronting the Roman Catholic Church – “we’ve been out-marketed.” Dolan says that while the Catholic Church does not favor same-sex marriage, its leaders are tired of being characterized as “anti-gay” rather than “pro-traditional marriage.” This isn’t the first time someone has suggested that the Catholic Church might have an image issue, and recent research by PRRI shows that the Catholic Church generally lags behind American Catholics overall in being viewed favorably by the public.
PRRI’s 2013 American Values Survey used a “feeling thermometer,” or a scale that runs from 1 to 100 where 1 indicates very cool or unfavorable feelings and 100 indicates very warm or favorable feelings, to measure how Americans feel toward a variety of religions and groups in the country. Most Americans (53 percent) report having a favorable view of Catholics overall, 10 percent report feeling neutral and 14 percent report feeling cool or unfavorably toward Catholics. Public feelings about the Catholic Church are substantially less positive and about twice as negative; roughly than 4-in-10 (41 percent) Americans report having warm feelings toward the Catholic Church, eight percent hold a neutral view and 30 percent report cool or cold feelings toward the Catholic Church.
Views of Catholics are more positive than of the Catholic Church across party lines, but the gap is considerably larger among Republicans than either Democrats or independents. More than 6-in-10 (62 percent) Republicans report warm feelings toward Catholics but less than half (45 percent) report similarly warm feelings toward the Catholic Church. A majority (53 percent) of Democrats report warm feelings toward Catholics, while 44 percent say they hold similarly warm feelings toward the Catholic Church. Independents are least likely to hold warm feelings toward Catholics (47 percent) and even fewer have a favorable view of the Catholic Church (38 percent).
Not surprisingly, Catholics are very favorably disposed toward the Catholic Church, with 75 percent reporting warm or favorable feelings. Similar numbers of Catholics hold warm feelings about their fellow Catholics (76 percent). The religiously unaffiliated show the widest gap between their feelings toward the Catholic Church and their feelings toward Catholics, with just 21 percent reporting warm feelings toward the Church and twice as many (42 percent) saying they have favorable feelings toward Catholics. White mainline Protestants have a smaller gap, with just more than one-third (35 percent) holding warm feelings toward the Catholic Church compared to more than half (54 percent) who say they have favorable feelings toward Catholics. White evangelical Protestants have a similar profile, with 38 percent reporting they hold warm feelings toward the Church and 52 percent saying the same for Catholics.
By age, older Americans (ages 65 and older) are more likely to hold warm feelings toward both the Catholic Church (56 percent) and Catholics themselves (68 percent) than any other group. In contrast, young adults (ages 18 to 29) report much less favorable feelings toward both the Catholic Church (32 percent) and Catholics overall (44 percent).