U.S. Catholics are far more progressive than the Vatican itself, according to a Pew Research Center survey released on Sept. 2.
Despite Pope Francis’ groundbreaking flexibility on subjects the Vatican has long considered taboo, there is a wide schism between U.S. Catholics and the Catholic Church on subjects like homosexuality, contraception and unconventional families.
While 90 percent of U.S. Catholics believe a household headed by a married mother and father is optimal, they show a growing tolerance for families headed by unmarried parents, single parents, or gay or lesbian couples, overwhelmingly deeming them acceptable.
The survey reveals that 65 percent of American Catholics do not view cohabitation without marriage as a sin, while 70 percent do not view divorce as a sin and 50 percent do not believe homosexuality is a sin.
According to the survey, the majority of Catholics in the country disagree with the church’s zero-tolerance policy on birth control and around one-third do not view abortion a sin.
The Vatican viewed abortion as grounds for excommunication until August 2015, when Pope Francis declared that women could be forgiven for terminating pregnancies if they were contrite.
To put the numbers in perspective, the survey found U.S. Catholics who regularly attended mass were more conservative than those who view their Catholicism as more of an identity.
The progressive attitudes of U.S. Catholics have been attributed to access to education and mass exposure to what the Vatican deems taboo, NBC reports.
“People are more educated and making up their minds on these issues, not just accepting what father says from the pulpit,” says Father Tom Reese of the National Catholic Reporter. “People now have a lot more personal experience with these things. They have brothers and sisters and friends who are gay, who are divorced — and they don’t want to consign them to hell.”
The survey found that 70 percent of U.S. Catholics would never be open to leaving the church.
On the other hand, 70 percent of U.S. Catholics who have already left the church say they cannot conceive of ever returning, reports The Washington Post.
Pope Francis is scheduled to tour cities along the U.S. East Coast Sept. 22-27.