BY CHRISTINA WHITE
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales have attacked a survey of Catholic clergy purporting to show that the majority of priests do not support the Church's teaching on key moral and social issues.
The survey, conducted between 1996 and 1997, sought priests' views on their vocation and wider questions affecting the Church. But only 1,482 priests returned the multiple choice questionnaire out of a total, in 1996, of 5,732 priests — a response rate of just 26 per cent.
• The poll found that 43 per cent of the priests surveyed were opposed to the Church's ban on artificial contraception. One in four was no longer convinced of the need for chastity and 21 per cent said practising homosexuals should be allowed into the priesthood.
A quarter of the respondents said they believed a woman could be a bishop and one in 10 felt that pae
dophilia was not sufficient cause to rule priests out from active ministry. More than half said sex with a married woman should not debar a priest from practising his ministry.
The results will be published next month by Continuum under the title The Naked Parish Priest.
In a statement, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales condemned the surveyas confusing, out of date and unrepresentative. It said the "views and understanding of priests on certain issues may have changed" and highlighted the fact that the majority of priests had refused to respond.• "When the authors continued to pester priests with second and third copies of the questionnaire, one priest wrote back: 'Please do not send me any more of your offensive and intrusive questionnaires. This is the third time I have received junk mail from you."
The bishops said the survey questions were very general and on occasion confusing to the respondents. In one section the words "chastity" and "celibacy" were muddled.
The bishops said: "The statistical findings of this book must be treated with great caution and cannot be seen as a true reflection of the current beliefs of priests in England and Wales."
Fr Shaun Middleton, spokesman for the National Conference of Priests, said the survey did not represent the views of the majority of priests.
"I have some serious questions about the methodology and sample base that was used for this work," he said.
The survey was undertaken by Mgr Stephen Louden, a Catholic priest and former chaplain to the Armed Forces, and Leslie Francis, a professor of pastoral theology at the University of Wales. Neither Prof Francis nor Mgr Louden were available for comment.
Mary Kenny: Page 8