One in 11 Filipinos considers leaving Catholic Church: survey

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Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - About one in every 11 Filipino Catholics, or 9.2 per cent, sometimes considers leaving the Church, a recent survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS) found.

Results of the survey, conducted from February 15 to 17, also found that compared with members of other denominations, Filipino Catholics were less devout and active in attending church services.

The noncommissioned survey used face-to-face interviews with 1,200 respondents nationwide. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus three percentage points.

It was conducted two weeks before Pope Benedict XVI stepped down from the papacy because of old age. He was replaced on March 19 by Pope Francis, who vowed reforms in a Church plagued by scandals and allegations of infighting.

Conducting such a survey for the first time, SWS said it took its cue from assertions made by Fr. Joel Tabora S.J., president of Ateneo de Davao University.

In his February 7 blog post, Tabora said: "The Catholic Church is in trouble-even in Catholic Philippines...People have been leaving the Catholic Church. People are about to leave the Church. It is time, I think, for Mahar Mangahas to take out his social survey tools to help us understand what is happening."

In a statement released Tuesday, SWS said there was survey evidence to support Tabora's assertions.

Decline in attendance

SWS said the evidence consisted of its surveys between 1991 and 2013 showing a (slight) decline in Catholics' church attendance and the finding of the survey last February "of a strong inverse relation between Catholics' church attendance and giving consideration to leaving the Catholic Church."

The latest survey found that 81 per cent of Filipinos were Catholics, 6 per cent were Protestants, 3 per cent were Iglesia ni Cristo members, and 3 per cent were of other Christian denominations.

Six per cent said they were Muslims, and 0.1 per cent said they belonged to other religious groups.

Between 1991 and 2013, the average annual percentage of adults identifying themselves as Catholics in surveys ranged from a high of 88 per cent in 1997 to a low of 80 per cent in 2007, SWS said.

The survey asked Catholics to react to the statement, "Sometimes I think I might leave the Catholic Church." They were made to choose among the following answers: "strongly agree;" "somewhat agree;" "undecided if agree or disagree;" "somewhat disagree;" and "strongly disagree."

The 9.2 per cent who said they sometimes thought of leaving the Catholic Church included those who "strongly agree" (2.5 per cent) and "somewhat agree" (6.7 per cent) to the statement.

Those who said otherwise consisted of 11.4 per cent who "somewhat disagree" and 74.2 per cent who "strongly disagree."

Just 5.2 per cent said they "neither agree nor disagree" with the statement.

Common sentiment

Leaving the Catholic Church is a common sentiment among Catholics who said they have no religious belief and whose attendance in church services has waned, according to SWS.

In terms of religious belief, the percentages of Catholics who sometimes think of turning their backs on the Church are the following: 57.3 per cent among those who say they have no religious belief; 16.1 per cent among the not very religious; 9.1 per cent among the somewhat religious; and 4.9 per cent among the very religious.

By church attendance, those who think of leaving the Church include those who attend church services once a year (18 per cent), several times a year (14.5 per cent), once a month (12.9 per cent), several times a month (7.1 per cent) and every week (5.4 per cent).

In its recent survey, SWS classified respondents as somewhat religious (56 per cent), very religious (32 per cent), not very religious (11 per cent) and not having religious belief (1 per cent).

Compared with other groups, Catholics are the least devout, with only 29 per cent saying they consider themselves very religious. The figure is higher among Protestants (50 per cent), Iglesia ni Cristo members (43 per cent), other Christian denominations (41 per cent) and Muslims (38 per cent).

Dramatic drop

Catholics also lag behind other groups when it comes to attending church services, with only 37 per cent saying they go to church every week, a dramatic drop from 64 per cent registered in July 1991.

The number of weekly churchgoers is higher among Iglesia ni Cristo members (70 per cent), Protestants (64 per cent) and other Christians (62 per cent). Seventy-five per cent of Muslims go to the mosque at least weekly.

The media chief of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines downplayed the results of the survey.

Msgr. Pedro Quitorio said that packed churches during the recent Holy Week celebrations ran counter to the SWS survey results. "I don't know about the scientific basis of the survey but based from what we just experienced this Holy Week, we saw a different situation on the ground," he said.

Quitorio said churches remained packed during Sundays while the recent Holy Week celebrations were "among the most attended" in recent memory. He said he celebrated a packed Mass in Quiapo Church on Easter Sunday and also before 10,000 Catholics at the SMX Convention centre at the SM Mall of Asia.

He also said that many Sunday Masses in parishes across the country remained to be "standing room only" affairs.

He noted that the El Shaddai movement, Couples for Christ and other Catholic charismatic movements were effective in drawing inactive Catholics back to church.

'Reason over religion'

Reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran said the survey was "a sign that Filipinos are becoming a critical people and now slowly choosing reason over religion."

"It is also a sign that Filipinos are becoming more aware of the flaws of the Filipino Catholic hierarchy and are disappointed....The stubborn and obsolete thinking of Filipino bishops are turning them away," said Celdran, also a tour guide and performing artist, said in a text message.

Celdran was found guilty by a Manila court early this year of offending religious feelings in 2010 when, dressed like Jose Rizal, he stood in front of the altar of the Manila Cathedral and disrupted an ecumenical service as he raised a placard with the word "Damaso" on it. The flamboyant tour operator had been protesting Church opposition to the reproductive health bill.

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