Twice a year St. Norbert College and Wisconsin Public Radio collaborate to sponsor a survey of public opinion in Wisconsin.
The surveys generally ask about 400 randomly selected respondents to rate the performance of public officials and solicit their opinions on a number of issues of the moment.
The spring 2005 survey was released during the week of May 9. The results suggest that religion matters when people think about policy questions.
While the results are mixed, they also suggest that Catholics are more in tune with the policy views of their bishops than some commentators would have us believe.
Let's start with the death penalty. The survey shows that 51 percent of those responding support the death penalty.
Significantly, this is a lower level of support than past surveys, well below the 70 percent support the death penalty enjoyed in some past years. Catholics, however, are less likely to support the death penalty than others. Only 43 percent of Catholics find the death penalty to be morally acceptable. Catholics who attend church every week are even more opposed. Only 39 percent of Catholics who attend church weekly support the death penalty.
Clearly, the development of Catholic teaching toward opposition to the death penalty is moving opinion in the pews.
We see the same pattern with abortion. A majority of those polled, 54 percent said abortion was morally wrong. As with the death penalty, Catholics are even more opposed to abortion (62 percent) than the public at large.
Here too, church attendance matters. Nearly 70 percent of those who attend church services weekly have moral objections to abortion.
Similarly, frequency of church attendance was generally a factor in opinion about the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Catholics who attend services weekly were more likely to oppose (47 percent) removing the tube than were Lutherans (42 percent), but less opposed than other Protestants (54 percent). Fully 100 percent of those with no religious affiliation felt the tube should have been removed.
Taken together, these data suggest that most Catholics take seriously what the church has to say on policy issues with moral implications. And it matters to them. That is why Catholics are more opposed to the death penalty than others. That is why they are more inclined to protect unborn children than others.
And, while there is clear linkage between frequent church attendance and agreement with the church's position on issues, even Catholics who attend services less often are less supportive of the death penalty than most other groups.
Way to evangelization
While we can aspire to the time when all Catholics make a clear connection between their religious values and policy views, we can take heart from this survey. For these numbers do confirm that being Catholic matters when citizens ponder important questions.
They also suggest that educating people about Catholic teaching and sharing moral analysis crafted in the Catholic tradition does connect with people over time. It is a reminder that advocacy and public witness are important ways to evangelize in the 21st Century.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Children: Honoring thy father and mother
Nothing gives us a better picture of our present state than seeing ourselves through the eyes of our kids.
When they were small they saw us as providers of food, physical comfort, and protection. Theirs was a needy kind of love.
In their teen years our kids saw us as a necessary evil, to be tolerated until such time as they could support themselves and escape.
And sometimes we were an embarrassment to them when we didn't blend in with all the other parents.
Then there were the years when they began raising their own children. They saw us as resources for information: recipes, health, and behavior problems.
Now that we are old, however, we seem to have taken on a unique value, much like an aged wine or a piece of fine china. And all we had to do to earn this status was simply to survive. How nice!
Our 10 children have always been great about remembering us on Mother's Day and Father's Day, but this year they were exceptionally loving and tender. It is no wonder.
In the two weeks preceding Mother's Day two of our children-in-law lost a father. Our son-in-law, Mark, lost his father to a massive heart attack, and a week later our daughter-in-law, Carson, lost her father following a fall in his home. In both cases the men were considered healthy and living an active lifestyle.
Sudden death is always a wake-up call. To us it is a reminder that we are at an age when strokes or heart attacks or even a fall can invite death when we least expect it.
So we try to be prepared spiritually (daily reception of the Eucharist is the best way I know) and financially with a living will, establishing a family trust fund (with enough flexibility to allow us to change our minds), and appointing an executor.
After our recent experience with the two deaths in our extended family, I am keenly aware of the impact this made on our kids' perception of us. As they grieved the loss of their fathers-in-law, they looked upon their own father with a new tenderness and appreciation.
Empathy that we feel for others is always based upon projecting someone else's loss on what it would be like if it were ours. So there was no sign of annoyance as they helped Bob get in and out of the car or make his way slowly up and down stairs. Was it my imagination? Or were they more tender and quicker to assist him?
Our grandchildren who attended the funeral seemed to hug us tighter than usual. They said things like, "You are so important in my life." And "You and Grandpa gave us a love of books and learning. Thank you." The extra fervor was, no doubt, directly related to their loss of another grandparent.
Our children expressed their concern in other ways, too. We were quizzed about our recent (or lack of) physical examinations.
Our daughter, Kathi, the occupational therapist, had some advice about getting Dad into physical therapy. Our daughter Kris, the nurse, thinks I should have that surgery on my foot so I can get back to walking and exercising more.
Our boys all agree that we need to replace the bathtub in the master bath with a walk-in shower with handles to reduce the possibility of Dad falling. "Don't worry about the money," they say, "Just spend it all and live a happy, safe life!"
Gone are the days when the kids may have seemed to be embarrassed about us. At the funeral this week our son, Tim, who manages a publishing house in Iowa, introduced us to a young man who works for him. I was astonished when he seemed genuinely pleased to meet us and said, "I have heard so much about you from your son. He brags about you all the time!"
I must have looked dumbfounded because Tim grinned and replied, "It's true, Mom. I do."
It bears out what I always say: If you live long enough, you don't have to do a heck of a lot. You get credit for just keeping on keeping on.
John Paul II:
Pope John Paul II's spiritual testament, which was read to the College of Cardinals a few days after his death and later released to the press, beautifully captures the spirit of a man for whom life's most important question was, "What is God asking of me now?"
The first segment of the testament was written during John Paul's Lenten retreat in March 1979, a few months after his election. During subsequent retreats, the Pope reflected on what he had written, adding further notes as seemed appropriate in 1980, 1982, 1985, and 2000.
At the end of the last addition, John Paul thanks his parents, his brother and sister, his home parish, his friends from school days, and the first parishes he served as a young priest. The testament's last words sum up the life of a great Christian disciple: "Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit."
Yet the translators of the original Polish text (which was first brought into Italian, and then from Italian into other languages) made a mistake that should be corrected.
They evidently didn't recognize the deeply personal meaning for John Paul II of the Polish word Srodowisko, rendering it simply as "the milieu of . . ." towards the end of the list of those whom John Paul wanted particularly to thank for their presence in his life. Which, of course, doesn't make much sense, or indeed any sense.
Unless you know that Srodowisko was the term used by the late pope to identify the large group of lay men and women whom he had come to know when he was a young university chaplain in the late 1940s and early 1950s - men and women who became some of Karol Wojtyla's closest friends and remained his friends for the rest of his life.
By thanking those he called "my Srodowisko," John Paul was bearing witness to a truth that marked him as a very distinctive bishop and pope - one who was formed into his ministry by friendships with lay people, even as he was forming them into mature Catholic professionals, spouses, and parents.
About two hours after John Paul's funeral Mass, my cell phone went off as I was walking, physically exhausted and emotionally drained, from our NBC platform high above St. Peter's Square back to the Roman apartment where I was staying, four blocks from the Vatican.
The call was from was a member of the late pope's Srodowisko, Piotr Malecki, Wojtyla's first altar boy at St. Florian's parish in Cracow, now a distinguished research physicist. He had flown down to Rome the night before with his wife, Teresa (vice rector of the Cracow Academy of Music), Teresa's sister Maria Rybicka (another distinguished physicist), and the Polish philosopher Karol Tarnowski - veteran Srodowisko members all, who had spent the night camped out somewhere in Rome, waiting to pray their great friend home to the house of the Father.
We managed to find each other amidst the hundreds of thousands of people pouring out of the Vatican precincts and went to the apartment for tea, wine, and tears, trying to imagine a world without Wujek, "Uncle," the name these no-longer-quite so-young men and women had given their beloved Father Wojtyla a half-century before - the name they called him until the day he died.
I couldn't have been graced with four better companions on that unforgettable day. Like me, they were still awestruck by the epic outpouring of affection and esteem that had led millions of people to drop everything and head for Rome to pay their respects to someone whom most of them had never met. We tried to figure it out; it seemed that a world forgetful of paternity had found, in Pope John Paul II, a father.
If that was the deep truth of what April 8, 2005, signified, then the record should note that God's gifts of paternal grace to Karol Wojtyla worked in tandem with the men and women of his Srodowisko, with whom he practiced the arts of paternity. The people of Srodowisko are no small part of the story of John Paul the Great, for which we all owe them a debt of gratitude.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
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