The Opposition to Obama at Notre Dame and the Overlooked Latino Factor

White Catholics who attend church weekly are Notre Dame's core critics. So how big a group are they?

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

In a recent Pew poll on the Obama-at-Notre Dame controversy, the only group of Roman Catholics in which a plurality thought the university was wrong to invite the president to its commencement were those who are white and attend mass weekly. (A plurality of white evangelicals also disapprove of the invite.)

Forty-seven percent of white Catholics who attend church weekly disagreed with Notre Dame's decision, compared with 33 percent who backed it.

Among all Catholics, meanwhile, 50 percent backed Notre Dame's decision, while 28 percent disagreed, with about another quarter unsure or refusing to answer.

So how big a group are white, weekly-church-attending Catholics? According to Pew, about two thirds of American Catholics are white. Among this group, about 42 percent attend mass weekly, representing about 6 of the country. The remainder of white Catholics attend church less frequently, representing about 9 percent of the country.

Which means that even though white, weekly church attendees represent a minority of American Catholics, it's a significant minority—one that Obama and Notre Dame need to worry about.

I'd be interested in seeing a poll of where Latino Catholics, the fastest-growing segment of American Catholicism, stand on the Notre Dame issue, since conservatives argue that the white, infrequent-mass-attending Catholics who back Notre Dame aren't serious Catholics anyway.

About 4 in 10 Latino Catholics attend church regularly, roughly the same proportion as white Catholics, but they are filling the pews as more and more whites leave Catholicism entirely. Almost half of American Catholics under 30 are Latino, a sharp uptick from a couple of decades ago. What this group thinks about the Obama/Notre Dame flap is a big gap in the polling on the issue so far.

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