In an Oct. 3 talk at Georgetown University inWashington before receiving an award from the Center for AppliedResearch in the Apostolate (CARA) for his contribution to churchresearch, James D. Davidson, of Purdue University, said the picturethat emerges from his 40 years of social research on religion inAmerica shows a Catholic laity that for the most part is involved inthe church, knows and affirms its core teachings, is highly educatedand is sophisticated in relating faith to public life.
Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco, a priest of theDiocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y. and U.S. Conference of CatholicBishops director of media relations from 1993 to 1994 and secretary ofcommunications from 1994 to 2006, who was also honored, quoted inremarks delivered during the dinner the ancient Greek philosopherSocrates, saying "the unexamined life is not worth living."
"I think that is true of communities as well," hesaid. He praised CARA and others who engage in social research on thechurch 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 putthe focus on Catholics who are dissident, religiously illiterate oranti-hierarchical, they distort the broader picture of the majority whoknow and live their faith well.
"American Catholics are the most highly educatedlaypeople in the history of the church," he said. "Two-thirds have morethan a high school education and one-third have advanced degrees."
He said numerous studies show that Catholics tendto distinguish between core church teachings and matters less centralto the faith, and where surveys find a lack of consensus amongCatholics it is on those less central issues.
"Not only do Catholics today have an instinct forwhat is most important, they also affirm those core beliefs andpractices," he said.
Msgr. Maniscalco is currently director of theRockville Centre diocesan Respect Life Office and adviser to RockvilleCentre Bishop William F. Murphy on public policy issues.
As the U.S. bishops' secretary of communicationshe played a major role in the development of their June 1997 nationalPastoral Plan for Church Communications and the follow-up strategicplan that November to implement it. An integral part of both plans wasuse of market research and other social science tools to help determinepriorities and resource allocations in national and diocesancommunications.
When the clergy sexual abuse crisis hit the churchin 2002, his secretariat commissioned CARA to conduct a series ofsurveys on how the crisis affected Catholics and their relationship tothe church, running from early 2002 through this year, because hethought it was important to have solid data to help the bishops developtheir response to the crisis.
"The results were sobering, but they did notnecessarily support the more apocalyptic visions that the media andothers saw in the night," he said.