SAINT LEO, FL – A recent survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute gathered opinion on considering the role of women as deacons in the Catholic Church, whether priests should be allowed to use their own discretion in providing counseling, and the favorability of the pope.

More than three-quarters of Catholic Americans polled support the suggestion made in May by Pope Francis to create a commission to study whether Catholic women, in addition to men, may   become deacons. In the poll, conducted June 10 through June 16, 59.5 percent of Catholics said they strongly support the idea while 22.8 percent said they somewhat support the measure.

While the thought of ordination of women as priests has been controversial, there is a historic basis for women serving as deacons, said Dr. Marc Pugliese, Saint Leo assistant professor of theology and religion. But that, too has been heated. There were women ministers called “deacons” in the Church historically, Pugliese said. The disputed question is whether those women received sacramental ordination (holy orders). “Deaconesses” were first referred to in Romans 16.

Today, the issue is ordination, one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Now, both priests and deacons receive holy orders, but priests receive the “priestly degree” and deacons receive the “servant degree,” Pugliese said.

“The key question today is whether women as deacons can receive sacramental ordination,” Pugliese said.

Saint Leo University’s poll shows support for a commission to study the possibility of women becoming deacons was strong among the overall sample of Americans, including non-Catholics, with 66.5 percent saying they strongly or somewhat support such a study.

In most U.S. parishes, “lay people are participating in various ministries,” Pugliese said. “Women are participating already.”

Current deacons are open to women joining their ranks, said Dr. Michael Anthony Novak, assistant professor of theology at Saint Leo University. Novak and Pugliese teach diaconate formation classes for men seeking to become deacons, as well as their wives.

“The women take classes for credit [rather than to join the permanent diaconate],” Novak said. “And some could be among our most talented deacons.”

The Saint Leo University poll shows a majority of all U.S. respondents, 58.6 percent, support Pope Francis when he suggests that priests should be empowered to use their own discretion in pastoral counseling of divorced/remarried, unmarried/cohabitating, and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Catholics. Among Catholics responding, 71.5 percent say they strongly or somewhat agree while 15.5 percent somewhat or strongly disagree, and 12.9 percent do not know or are unsure.

The poll results, including non-Catholics, show 61 percent of women respondents agree while 56.1 percent of men agree with priests being permitted to provide counseling for these groups.

And while some may think America’s older generation would support a more traditional Catholic Church, nationally, those 65 and older are highly in favor of studying women becoming deacons (70.4 percent agree). They also favor priests having the discretion to provide pastoral counseling to divorced, cohabitating, or gay Catholics (61.7 percent agree). These sums include non-Catholics.

“Younger people seem to be heading back to traditionalism,” Pugliese commented.

Views on Pope Francis

The favorable opinion of Pope Francis remains constant from previous polling by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. In June, a favorable opinion of the pope was held by 68.9 percent, up slightly from March 2016 at 68.4 percent, and down slightly from 70 percent recorded in December 2015. Among U.S. Catholics, the pope enjoys the favorable opinion of 87.5 percent with 59.5 saying they have a strongly favorable opinion and 28 percent saying they have a somewhat favorable opinion of the pontiff.

In September 2015, the popularity of Pope Francis was at 75.8 percent, according to a special Saint Leo poll, conducted September 27-29, just after the end of the pontiff’s American visit.

More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll sampled opinion of 1,001 adults and has a plus or minus 3.0 percent margin of error. Of the 1,001 adults surveyed, 239 say they are Catholic, and the margin of error for that sample is plus or minus 6.34 percent.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and a capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s nearly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from any location. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Through these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text)      


Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text)