Stunning Truth about the Pew Poll on Catholics’ Belief in the Eucharist

A Catholic priest consecrating Holy Communion. Photo by Josh Applegate.

Many Americans take polls seriously, and many Catholic Americans are discouraged by Pew Research Center’s survey about a so-called majority of Catholics who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist. However, we should beware of any poll, survey or study that claims findings on the thoughts or beliefs of all Catholics or all Americans. We should beware because it’s impossible to survey all Catholics or all Americans.

Gregory Smith, an associate director of Pew Research Center, alarmed Catholic bishops, HLI President Father Shenan Boquet, other priests, and laypeople with his article: “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.”

Smith opens with this: “Transubstantiation – the idea that during Mass, the bread and wine used for Communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ – is central to the Catholic faith. Indeed, the Catholic Church teaches that ‘the Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’”

That’s true, but starting with the second paragraph, Pew makes sweeping and misleading statements:

But a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most self-described Catholics don’t believe this core teaching. In fact, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.”

Like Father Boquet, many Americans have witnessed distressing crises of faith among Catholics. Our entire foundation as Catholics rests in the True Presence and without it we are deprived of the chief source of grace. As Servant of God Father John Hardon, S.J. taught: “Once we say that the Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ, we immediately see that it is He who is the final source of the graces which the world needs to not only cope with the culture of death but to promote the culture of life.”

Pivotal Questions and Answers

As Father Boquet says, this Pew survey caused widespread discouragement among Catholics, so I examined Pew Research Center’s “methodology” and asked them if I properly understood their findings. Hannah Tiner graciously replied, and here are the details you need to know:

  • Pew surveyed Catholics and non-Catholics
  • The total sample size (meaning the number of people who replied) is 10,971 respondents
  • Only 1,835 of the those respondents declare themselves to be Catholic.

Realistic Numbers

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has the most accurate count of Catholics in the USA. Their numbers are  most accurate because the count is based on parish registration provided by Catholic dioceses and archdioceses. It represents “figures for those 195 dioceses or eparchies who belong to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB]. This includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and all U.S. military personnel stationed overseas.”

CARA shows that in 2018 the Catholic population of parish-connected Catholics was 68.7 million persons.

CARA also states that in 2018 the Catholic population was 76.3 million people according to a “self-identified, survey-based estimate.” In other words, some Catholics, maybe a large number, don’t formally register with parishes. For much of my adult life, I didn’t register at a parish until I bought and settled in my current home.

Prior to Easter 2019, the USCCB announced that 37,000 people were joining the Catholic Church in the USA.

Bottom line: CARA’s counts show that the U.S. Catholic population continues to grow instead of shrinking.

Thus, Pew’s 2019 survey of 1,835 Catholics compared to CARA’s 2018 count of 68.7 million is a microscopic fraction of Catholics. It seems Pew surveyed approximately 0.002% of Catholics in the USA and the number of 1,266 nominal Catholic non-believers who answered Pew’s survey is smaller.

“The Last Supper” by Daniele Crispi (1624-25) at Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. Photo thanks to the Web Gallery of Art.

What Should the Church Do?

Now let’s put this into perspective. It is a pity if merely one Catholic doesn’t believe that Jesus Christ Almighty, true God and true man, is really present body, soul, and divinity in both species of the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine.

Nevertheless, don’t get depressed because with knowledge and God’s grace, all of us can increase our faith and we can help doubters with goodwill to gain faith too.

At many Sunday Masses, I’ve heard priests quoting polls about Catholics and, last Sunday, one of my favorite priests quoted this Pew survey! Then he beautifully taught the congregation about the reality of Christ in the Eucharist and how we can evangelize in everyday life.

When I asked the pastor of one parish and a deacon from another about this particular survey, they said they believe polls like this truly represent the Church at large.

In preparing parishioners for the sacraments, these ministers ask questions about Catholic dogmas that we need to believe for salvation, and often they are shocked by their parishioners’ replies.

The pastor said many of the people he prepares are ignorant because they don’t have a Catholic education. Hence, he teaches them to enter into Catholic life with full consent, including total belief in and reverence for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

The deacon said he believes this Pew poll. He believes it because, for one dramatic example, recently he was preparing a young married couple to get their firstborn baby baptized and raise him in the faith. They didn’t know Who founded the Catholic Church; what the mortal sins are; and when we may take Holy Communion. The deacon was shocked because the couple met in the parish’s school. This is a lesson for parents to monitor their Catholic schools or CCD classes because their children need the truth and they should listen and learn to the best of their abilities.

The priests at my parish not only preach, they teach from the pulpit. They help us to fall in love with Jesus, everything He is and everything that He, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit give to us during every moment of our lives.

They provide daily Masses, a chapel for 24/7 Eucharistic adoration, education, and good counsel. As a result, every Easter converts (sometimes nearly 200) enter the Catholic Church at our parish.

To the 1,266 people who took the Pew survey and think the Eucharist is only a symbol, I can relate. Even though I heard the Gospel at Mass since I was a child, I went to public schools and I was profoundly ignorant. Then, as a teenager, I was shocked by a Protestant’s book warning that the Apocalypse was imminent. It literally scared the hell out of me, and I started reading my parents’ Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible to verify verses in the Protestant’s book. This led me to seek other Catholic books about God, the Church, and history. I wanted to know precisely what Christ said and what it means. Eventually, I went to Christendom College and graduated with a B.A. in Catholic Theology.

The truth is that only God, saints and angels can know the total number of Catholics who believe or don’t believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist.

The truth is we can’t love Truth Himself unless we know Him, and we can’t know Him unless we read the Bible. Furthermore, in the Bible, Saint John the Evangelist tells us: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.” This is why the Catholic Church published the Catechism and both of these books are online for everyone in the free world.

Read These Books Online

In John 6, Christ says, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the living bread which came down from heaven,” and He tells us that we need to eat the Bread of Life for “everlasting life.” So I invite you to read the searchable Douay-Rheims Bible annotated by Bishop Richard Challoner. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the most accurate English translation of the Holy Bible online. Also see the best searchable edition of The Catechism of the Catholic Church to search for “Eucharist” and other topics.

Anita Crane is an analyst, writer and editor for Human Life International. She earned a B.A. in Catholic Theology from Christendom College and is certified by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia in VIRTUS training called Protecting God's Children. She lives near Washington, D.C. and her background includes working as a promo producer and scriptwriter for the C-SPAN Networks, and working as senior editor of the national pro-life magazine Celebrate Life. She has written many articles about the Catholic stance on faith, human rights, politics, movies, and other media for internet publishers, some with millions of readers.

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  1. HLI Staff on October 4, 2019 at 9:39 AM

    Dear James, thank you for your question. I am not myself a Biblical scholar, but was taught at my Father’s knee that this was the “right one.” Our author also felt it the best, but as you will know, there are many approved Catholic bibles in rotation. A scriptural scholar would know best.

  2. Marla Hurtado on August 30, 2019 at 11:38 PM

    I really enjoyed this article by Anita Crane. Her insight about the pew report I find very succinct such that I will not take for granted the veracity of polls any longer, but delve deeper to scrutinize findings and the aims of these findings, especially in the matters of our Catholic Faith. Bravo!

    • Anita Crane on October 14, 2019 at 5:46 AM

      Thanks Marla Hurtado!

  3. Sonja Campbell on August 30, 2019 at 11:20 PM

    This is how the founder of NARAL, Dr. Bernard Nathanson (before his conversion to the Catholic Church many years later) convinced Americans that abortion should be legalized — by creating false polls and statistics that claimed that the majority of Americans supported the idea of legalizing abortion — when, in fact, the majority supported keeping abprtion illegal. And here we are today, post Roe v. Wade, and millions, if not billions, of lives lost.

  4. Susan Y Okamoto on August 30, 2019 at 11:17 AM

    Even if all Catholics say they believe, the lack of reverence I observe in so many churches is very disheartening. It is worse to believe and act that way than not to believe!
    Regarding poor catechesis, I agree that it is responsible for ignorance among many, many Catholics. I had excellent instruction in my family and in weekly “religious instruction” when I was in public school. In many cases we cannot count on a Catholic education to impart the truths of our Faith.

  5. Greg on August 30, 2019 at 2:28 AM

    I think you are wrong, I myself have carried out such surveys on the topic and Catholics are so badly catechized that most practicing cradle Catholics do not believe the fundamentals.
    The Pew survey may be out but not by much, I’d be surprised if 50% of Catholics believe.
    Please do not keep your head in the sand, I know our bishops continue to ignore the problem, I can assure you here in the UK we loos 80-90% of our Catholic youth to secularism, next time you are in Church go to random Catholics and ask the following questions
    1. Do you believe Adam and Eve were real people
    2. Did Moses cross the Red sea as described in Scripture
    3. Did our Lord raise people from the dead
    4. Did Our Lord return from the dead
    5. Is Jesus physically present in this Catholic church in a way he is not present in protestant Churches
    6. Does the Bread and Wine really become Jesus’s real Body and Blood
    as part of the answers (Agree, Neither Agree or disagree, Disagree, Do not know, )
    I assure you, if you get 50% correct the parish priest is making an effort.
    Lastly, people tend to practice as they believe – look how the receive communion, look at the lines for confession, look at how the priest celebrates the mass.

  6. Paul Francis on August 29, 2019 at 7:45 PM

    For years, I’ve suspected that secular “polls” concerning the conformity of purported “Catholics’ ” belief to what the Church authentically teaches were but ruses published to undermine Catholic confidence in its membership, but especially in its value as a leaven either for conversions or in the public square. What is the “buzzword” these days? Oh yes, “hashtag” Feeling vindicated.

    • Anita Crane on October 14, 2019 at 5:48 AM

      Thanks Paul Johnson!

  7. Fr. Peter Liuzzi, O.Carm. on August 29, 2019 at 5:55 PM

    Dear Anita: I laud your faith in the Eucharist. But I am dismayed that you dare to claim the Douay-Rheims as the most accurate English translation of Sacred Scripture. In so doing your are undermining the present translation in use: The New American Bible, from which our Lectionary comes. You have sent out a very confusion message to so many ordinary Catholics.
    Kindly give this matter to prayer. Fraternally, Fr. Peter Liuzzi, O. Carm.

    • HLI Staff on October 4, 2019 at 9:16 AM

      Dear Father Peter, thank you so much for your note to HLI. As you will doubtless know, there are many opinions as to which Catholic Bible is the best. I am myself not a scripture scholar, as I write above. Our author also felt it the best, but as you will know, there are many approved Catholic bibles in rotation. The one at Mass is not necessarily acknowledged by all to the the best. If you wish to inquire further, please feel free to email us and I will see your email gets to Father or a Biblical theologian to discuss versions if you wish to explore them. Bless your witness to the priesthood!

  8. Mary on August 29, 2019 at 3:19 PM

    I would like to know where your parish is located. With nearly 200 converts at Easter, thE Priests preaching on the teachings of Christ and perpetual adoration, it is certainly a,parish to which parishioners would be devoted and worthy of emulation .

    • HLI Staff on October 4, 2019 at 9:16 AM

      Mary, this is wonderful. We do not have a parish here at HLI, we are an apostolate. We are a bit confused by your question but applaud your good priests!

    • Anita Crane on December 22, 2019 at 8:33 AM

      Dear Mary,

      Thanks for the question.

      However, for the sake of protecting Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and the parish’s staff, members, and property, I do not want to reveal the name of my parish or where it is.

      Perhaps your friends and neighbors can help you find a good parish where you live.

      Yours truly,


  9. Patrick Bannerman Kelly on August 29, 2019 at 2:15 PM

    Thank you Father for this wonderful article on the Pew survey. They should be ashamed of themselves. But they have no shame. These are scary times indeed.

    You mentioned the Douay-Rheims version as the best today. Have you read any of the RSVCE? A most worthy translation. RSVCE – Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
    I believe it has the more accurate English correct version of the Bible. I think you will agree should you peruse it. For example MT 11:25-28 where it says, “Come to me, all WHO labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
    ‘Who’ is for animate objects. That’ is for inanimate objects. Many commit this error in speech everyday. A minor point for sure. But an important one I believe.

    Plus, it maintains the old English version of the 23rd Psalm which I so love.

    I had the privilege of meeting Father Paul Marx many years ago when he said a Mass at a mutual friend’s home in Escondido, CA. That was Deacon Ken and Marie Finn. I shall never forget his homily. In it he said, First comes contraception, then comes abortion. This is so powerful because it is truth. And truth cannot be denied, it can only be ignored. Ignored in the infinitive sense, ‘to ignore’.

    May Our Beloved Savior continue to bless you in your work. You do so much for His Kingdom. God bless you.

    Pat Kelly 541 301-5197.

    • HLI Staff on October 4, 2019 at 9:15 AM

      Dear Pat, how wonderful that you were able to meet Fr. Marx! What a privilege. As for the bibles, I am not myself a Biblical scholar, but was taught at my Father’s knee that this was the “right one.” I am sure others are fine, but a scriptural scholar would know best. Thank you for your support of Life!

  10. James W. Anderson on August 29, 2019 at 2:09 PM

    What facts support your statement that the Douay-Rheims is the most accurate translation of the Holy Bible online?

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