New Study Confirms Decline of Catholic Colleges

We have long known of the collapse of morals and fidelity to Catholic teaching on many Catholic campuses. Now we have national survey data to prove it.
You may have seen the front page of the recent National Catholic Register. The Cardinal Newman Society’s new national survey of students at Catholic colleges and universities — looking at both current students and recent graduates under the age of 30 — is the only such nationally representative data publicly available. The results are frightening:
  • Nearly one of every five respondents knows another student who had an abortion or paid for one.
  • Three out of five agree strongly or somewhat that abortion should be legal.
  • 46 percent of all respondents say they had premarital sex in the last year they attended a Catholic college.
  • 57 percent agree strongly or somewhat that same-sex “marriage” should be legal.
  • 78 percent say that using a condom to prevent pregnancy is not a serious sin.
But given an increasingly secular society that is moving further away from Catholic morality, it may not be all that surprising that a snapshot of young adults shows disagreement with the Church. The big question is: What impact are Catholic colleges having in reversing those trends?
Here the data are even more disconcerting: The majority of respondents say that their experience at a Catholic college or university did not increase their respect for the Vatican and the Catholic bishops, did not increase their support for Catholic teachings, and did not increase their own participation in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Instead, the experience simply had no impact on their affinity for the Church.
Another 10 to 13 percent of respondents say their experience at a Catholic college caused their respect for Church leaders, support for Catholic teaching, and sacramental participation to decline.
And we found evidence that certain scandalous practices at Catholic colleges strongly correlate with students’ immorality. Of the 39 percent of respondents who say they experienced college officials or staff encouraging students to use contraceptives, 53 percent had sex during their last year at a Catholic college, 10 points higher than respondents who were not encouraged to use artificial contraception.
Of the 31 percent of respondents who say they experienced college officials or staff encouraging the acceptance of homosexual activity, 56 percent agree that homosexual sex is morally acceptable (26 points higher than those who were not encouraged to support illicit sex), 45 percent support homosexual “marriage” (16 points higher than the other respondents), and 43 percent say the visibility of homosexual students on campus is high (32 points higher than the remaining respondents).
What is perhaps most surprising and disconcerting is that many of the survey results are worse for the women:
  • Female students are more likely to report having engaged in premarital sex in their last year at a Catholic college: 50 percent versus 41 percent of the men.
  • Female students are less likely to attend Mass weekly (46 percent versus 62 percent of the men), go to confession at least once a year (56 percent versus 69 percent of the men), or pray at least daily (48 percent versus 57 percent of the men).
  • The women more strongly support legalized abortion (65 percent versus 53 percent of the men), even though there is little disagreement on the immorality of abortion (62 percent versus 65 percent).
And even though the male students are much more likely to view pornography regularly — a stunning 45 percent of respondents — it is also shocking that 14 percent of the women say they also viewed pornography regularly.
Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly expressed alarm about the “educational emergency” in the West: the failure to transmit the truth about Jesus Christ and man’s place in the world to the younger generations. He told college presidents gathered at The Catholic University of America last April:
A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.
Now contrast that to what many American Catholic colleges and universities currently provide: a disintegrated curriculum that no longer conveys to students a unity of truth; a distorted application of academic freedom that allows few limits or responsibilities; disregard for the Church and its teachings — more so, not less, in theology and religious studies departments; and disavowal of responsibility for the moral climate on campus, leaving young adults without direction and contributing to the rapid moral decline of Catholic college student life.
Cleary Catholic families have to be very careful when selecting even Catholic colleges — examining the curriculum, professors, lecturers, campus ministry, residence halls, and campus life. There are many wonderful Catholic colleges, 21 of which are profiled in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.
The study does not contrast Catholic colleges and non-Catholic institutions. But a word of caution: As bad as many Catholic campuses can be, the secular institutions can often be worse. Even a good campus ministry cannot provide a properly integrated liberal arts curriculum or a campus life that supports and promotes Catholic morality.


Patrick J. Reilly is president of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education.

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