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Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics

Executive Summary

In December 2007 the Department of Communications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct a survey of adult Catholics in the United States. The focus of the survey is participation in the sacramental life of the Church as well as beliefs about the sacraments.1 However, the poll also addresses many other issues of importance to the Church, including other forms of participation in Church life and other teachings of Catholicism. A questionnaire was designed by CARA in consultation with the Department of Communications. See Appendix I for the complete questionnaire. The following are among the major topic areas:

  • How Catholics have entered the Church

  • The general sacramental lives of Catholics

  • The Mass and Eucharist

  • Reconciliation

  • Anointing of the Sick

  • Ordinations and vocations

  • Religious devotions and practices in daily life

  • General Catholic beliefs and attitudes

In February 2008 CARA surveyed 1,007 self-identified adult Catholics from Knowledge

Networks large national panel of households, which have been assembled by regular random telephone survey methods (probability sampling).2 A survey with this number of respondents has a margin of sampling error of ±3.1 percent. As a rule of thumb, every 1 percentage point of

the total adult Catholic population is equivalent to approximately 500,000 persons.3

The

Knowledge Networks panel is known to closely approximate the demographic characteristics of the U.S. population.4 The panel is updated on a quarterly basis and those persons who are sampled and asked to join the Knowledge Networks panel receive subsidized Internet access and

1 The sacrament of Marriage was studied in a previous poll commissioned by the Committee on Marriage and Family Life of the USCCB. The complete report for this study, Marriage in the Catholic Church: A Survey of U.S. Catholics, is available on the CARA website: http://cara.georgetown.edu/MarriageReport.pdf

2 3 CARA has conducted national Catholic surveys with Knowledge Networks on six previous occasions since 2002. CARA Catholic Polls (CCP), national random-digit dial telephone polls, consistently estimate that between 22 and 23 percent of the adult population in the U.S. self identifies as Catholic. Taking this proportion of the most recent Census Bureau estimates for the size of the U.S. adult population we estimate that 1 percent of the adult Catholic population is approximately equivalent to 500,000 persons (or more specifically 510,300 as of April 2008).

4 The Knowledge Networks panel has been shown to be representative to well within 1 percentage point to the U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) demographics for gender, age, race and ethnicity, education, and region. See Baker et al. (2003), “Validity of the Survey of Health and Internet and Knowledge Networks Panel and Sampling,” Stanford University and Krosnick and Chiat Chang (2001), “A Comparison of Random Digit Dialing Telephone Survey Methodology with Internet Survey Methodology as Implemented by Knowledge Networks and Harris Interactive,” Ohio State University.

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