A Gallup poll commissioned by a dissident traditionalist Roman Catholic parish in Vienna, Va., found that 40 percent of Catholics questioned would like the old 16th century Latin mass restored "as an alternative" to the new liturgy in English, the church's pastor said yesterday.
The Rev. Ronald J. Ringrose of St. Athanasius Church said the poll was conducted to determine the demand among Catholics for the old Latin mass and to persuade the Vatican to authorize a separate wing of the church that would use the old rite.
The findings were based on a telephone survey last month of a random sample of 400 Catholics. There are 52 million Catholics in the United States.
Ringrose, who acknowledged that he and St. Athanasius are considered "disobedient Catholics" by the church hierarchy, also said that 53 percent of those questioned said they would attend such a mass if it were "readily available, at convenient times and locations and the respondent were able to attend."
St. Athanasius is one of about 50 rebel parishes across the country that have defied the Vatican by clinging to the Latin liturgy authorized by the 16th century Council of Trent. That Tridentine rite was replaced in 1970 by a new liturgy, in English and with significant changes in the text, reflecting decisions of the Second Vatican Council.
In October, Pope John Paul issued a surprise edict authorizing use of the Tridentine mass only occasionally and with the permission of the local bishop.
In addition, participants must state publicly that they accept the "doctrinal legitimacy and exactness" of the new rite, a condition Ringrose and many other traditionalists reject.
The significance of the findings released yesterday was questioned by another pollster who specializes in Catholic studies. William McCready of the National Opinion Research Center, a group based at the University of Chicago, cautioned against drawing conclusions from a poll of only 400 Catholics.
"The Catholic population has gotten so diverse you need a larger sample," he said. Comparing the spectrum of Catholic opinions today to Judaism, he added, "You're almost talking about Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Catholics."
A Gallup spokesman said the size of the sample was limited by the amount of money made available by the client, which Ringrose said was $3,000.
McCready also pointed out that the wording of the question, proposing the Tridentine mass as "an alternative," gave the respondents "an option. Typically, if you give Catholics an option, they'll go for it."
But Ringrose said the poll's results "tells us that Catholics by and large have held onto the traditional faith."
Ringrose said traditionalists object to the new mass because it is "doctrinally inexact and ambiguous," permitting the liturgy to be "interpreted in a Protestant sense. . . . "
As an example, he cited the words of the communion service describing Christ sacrificing his life to redeem humanity. "The new mass says his blood was 'shed for you and for all,' whereas the old liturgy says it was 'shed for you and for many'," he said, adding that the Council of Trent teaches that only "the elect" are saved.