ROSARIO, Argentina – As bishops from Pope Francis’s native Argentina figure out how to pay their own salaries instead of taking funds from the state, a new poll shows that while seven in ten Argentines declare themselves to be Catholic, six in ten don’t know what activities the Church is doing in the country and seven in ten attend Mass less than once a month.
At first glance, the results of the study, commissioned by the bishops after they announced the progressive end of public funding for the Church late last year, aren’t all bad news: 67 percent of Argentines identify as Catholic, and most know the main missions of the Church: Evangelization, education and guidance, providing spiritual and emotional support, and material aid.
In addition, seven in ten Argentines believe that the basic sense of religion is to give meaning to life in this world.
Yet only 16 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly and just 13 percent more do so once a month, while 49 percent attend less than once a month and 22 percent never go to church unless it’s for a wedding or a baptism.
Seven in ten people in Pope Francis’s home country claim they’re “little or not at all” familiar with the activities of the Catholic Church in the country, and the number goes down only slightly among Catholics, six in ten. This means they don’t know about the Church’s hospitals, homes for the elderly, schools, social work in the slums, and more.
Five out in ten Argentines believe that the main beneficiary of the Church’s work are religious – bishops, priests and nuns – and only 21 percent say the institution helps lay Catholics, while just 17 percent believe the Church helps the entire country.
Close to five percent of those who answered the poll said they believe the Church also helps the state.
When it comes to financial support, the poll showed increasing donations will not be an easy task: 35 percent of the overall population believes the Church doesn’t need their money, and the number is strikingly similar among Catholics, 32 percent.
A robust 44 percent of Argentines believe the state finances the Church in Argentina, which is only partially true, and 12 percent of Argentines believe it’s the Vatican, which is completely fallacious. Close to 60 percent of the pope’s home country believes the Holy See should finance the church in Argentina, and only 42 percent believe it’s the responsibility of the faithful to help fund the Church.
The poll was answered by around 3,000 people and has a margin of error of +2.6 percent. It was requested by the bishops’ commission for Support of the Evangelizing Action of the Church in order to craft a communications effort to increase donations, in an attempt to replace state contributions and improve the church’s budget.
At present, the aid the church receives from the Argentine state amounts to 10 percent of its annual budget, meaning close to $2.5 million. The bishops announced last year their intention to gradually renounce this aid, among other reasons because some politicians have cited the public funds as a reason to claim the Catholic Church should have no voice in a nation-wide debate over the decriminalization and legalization of abortion.
The poll also showed that 48 percent of Argentines have a positive image of the Church, but 44 percent have a negative view, on par with a growing loss of credibility of institutions at a national level. However, Caritas, the Church’s charitable agency, and Catholic colleges and universities draw more positive reviews, with 74 and 63 percent of approval rate respectably.
Over half of Argentines believe that it’s not important to financially help the Church for it to pursue its charitable works, or to maintain churches and its infrastructure.
According to the survey, Catholics in Argentina believe the role of the Church is to “preach and evangelize”; “educate and guide”; “provide spiritual and emotional support”; and “give material aid.”
The poll also showed that three things – Pope Francis; local priests and the Church’s work in parishes; and a greater acceptance of divorce and sexual diversity – are seen as “positive changes.”
However, clerical sexual abuse, a perceived lack of transparency, and a sense of the Church being distant from “meat and potatoes” Catholics, are all seen as negative.
The Argentine bishops are currently gathered in a national assembly, and the results of the poll are on the agenda. Other action items include a response to the coronavirus crisis that is beginning to erupt locally.
On Wednesday, the bishops announced the cancellation of a National Marian Congress, and later that same day released a statement with suggested preventive measures, which include suspending the sign of peace during Mass and receiving Communion in the hand.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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