Should catholic priests be able to marry? Should women be allowed to be ordained as deacons?
NBC Owned Television Stations across the country conducted an anonymous survey of Catholic Church employees. The results provide a unique perspective on how Catholics in America are served by their dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries.
"If we start to change all these things, it's not going to really solve the problem," said Katherine Vargas of Milford. She and her husband, Bryan Mercier, are proud and devout Catholics. The couple wants to see the church grow without straying from its roots.
"I do see a bright future. I mean, the Catholic Church has been around 2,000 years," said Mercier, who is also a Catholic public speaker and youth group leader. "I think the church is moving in a good direction for the most part. I think there's still quirks and things that need to be reformed and worked on for sure," he said.
Investigative teams at NBC Owned Television Stations across the country created an exclusive 26 question anonymous survey for Catholic Church employees. It received 2,700 responses from members of the church workforce including nearly 500 priests and deacons, more than 280 religious sisters and brothers, along with nearly 1,900 lay employees – everyone from educators to administrative staff.
When asked if they believe the church should consider ordaining women as permanent deacons, 59.6 percent of respondents answered 'Yes, this needs further study'. Meanwhile, 40.3 percent of church employees said 'No, this is settled doctrine."
"I'm surprised it's that high to be honest," said Stephanie Vargas, a practicing Catholic in Milford. She said she does not see a need for women to be ordained as deacons. "Our role is important even if it doesn't have that title," she said of the work women already do in the church.
But others have a different view, including Catholic scholar and author Dr. Phyllis Zagano, who was recently at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven giving a lecture on the role of women in the church and advocating for the ordination of women as deacons.
"The problem is not whether they will say yes. It's when - and if," said Zagano. "It would bring a message of hope that the church is waking up to the needs of the time," she said.
Dozens of the respondents of the survey were from the state of Connecticut.
When asked if church employees believe the church should consider ordaining married men as priests, 65.5 percent answered "Yes, this needs further study." Conversely, 34.5 percent responded "No, this is settled doctrine."
"There's a profound difference between a preference and a demand," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization. "So a lot of the Catholics are saying yeah if they want to do that that's OK, but it doesn't really touch them."
There was also a survey question about contraception and about if church employees believe the church should consider allowing the use of birth control. For that, 52.7 percent of respondents answered "Yes, this needs further study," while 47.2 percent said "No, this is settled doctrine."
NBC Connecticut Investigates reached out to the Archdiocese of Hartford, the Diocese of Bridgeport and the Diocese of Norwich for their responses to the findings of our survey. They have yet to respond to several requests for comment.
Credit: Nelson Hsu/NBC
This 26-question unweighted survey was conducted using Survey Monkey between the dates of Oct. 18, 2019 and Nov. 14, 2019. Survey forms were sent via email to 32,616 email addresses listed in the Official Catholic Directory. A total of 2,700 responses were returned, resulting in an 8.3 percent response rate. Survey Monkey calculates the survey’s margin of error +/- 2 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. All sample surveys and polls are subject to multiple sources of error including self-selection bias and error associated with the wording of questions.