Today’s Times carries an interesting – though for many Herald readers deeply dispiriting – article: “Most UK Catholics back right to abortion”. (It’s behind a paywall, but a quick and free registration can get you access.)
I won’t repeat the full thing here – and besides, you can read the full report from the 2016 Brithish Social Attitudes survey, on which the article is based here. But the essential statistics are these: In 2012, 39 per cent of British Catholics thought that abortions should be legal on the simple grounds that “the woman does not wish to have a child”. Now, fully 61 per cent of British Catholics think so.
This is, it must be said, a huge leap in just four years. By comparison, in the 27 years prior to 2012, the proportion of similarly pro-choice Catholics increased by only six percentage points (from 33 per cent in 1985). Personally, I’d suggest regarding the specific figures in play here – i.e., 61 per cent of British Catholics; a rise of 22 percentage points – as being illustrative, rather than pin-pointedly precise. (This is due to all the usual caveats regarding sample size, margins of error, etc.) Nevertheless, the general tenor of the statistics, and indeed of the direction of travel, are likely to be trusted.
These figures come at a time when Catholic attitudes to critical moral and social issues are already very much in the news. This is thanks to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s straight-talking statement of the Church’s, and therefore his own, opposition to both abortion and same-sex marriage. It is not surprising, then, that these new BSA data are being used to cast Rees-Mogg’s views as being out of touch even among Catholics themselves.
I addressed the general question of “How odd is Rees-Mogg?” in terms of British social attitudes as a whole on the Spectator’s website over the weekend. How representative, though, is he among his fellow Catholics?
First of all, he is already in a minority of Catholics simply by virtue of being a regular Mass attender: fewer than one in three of cradle Catholics (a good chunk of whom now identify as ‘no religion’, of course), and only about two in five of all those who currently identify as Catholics, say that they attend Mass even as often as once a month (see here).
Accordingly, it would be interesting to see what difference there is between practising Catholics and non- or irregularly-practising Catholics on attitudes towards abortion and other subjects. I suspect that among them Mr Rees-Mogg’s views would find much greater (though not at all unanimous) agreement.
Even so, these new statistics are a sobering indicator (as we didn’t have enough of them already) of just how far British Catholics have secularized. So too, for that matter, is the furore surrounding Jacob Rees-Mogg.
And perhaps the two things are not wholly unrelated.
After all, there are, I think, about 70-odd Catholic MPs, and of course lots of other Catholics who are major figures in public life. With very few exceptions, however, they are not generally well-known for having, and voicing, “Catholic views” (which are not, of course, exclusive to Catholics) on one of the most pressing moral issues of the day
The very reason that Rees-Mogg’s comments created such a storm is because, actually, openly supporting the teaching of the Church really isn’t what anyone has come to expect from Catholics in the public square.