Many American Catholics think poorly of Muslims, especially if they don't have friends, relatives or coworkers who identify as Muslim, according to a new study on religious intolerance. Only 14 percent of American Catholics view Muslims favorably, the study released Tuesday from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., found.
The multi-year research project surveyed 1,027 self-identified Catholics who said there were no commonalities between the minority faiths in the U.S. The study also concluded that Catholic media outlets largely only refer to "Islamic" when reporting on violence committed by the Islamic State terrorist group. In all, about one in three Catholics in the study said they had unfavorable views toward Muslims.
"We hope the report gives Catholic leaders and educators insights into how ordinary Catholics view Islam and interfaith dialogue," Jordan Denari Duffner, the report's author, said in a statement.
Getting to know an actual Muslim helped improve attitudes. About 30 percent of respondents said they personally knew a Muslim, which is less than the national average. The Catholics who had Muslims in their everyday lives had more positive views of Islam, while those who did not not were twice as likely to express a negative reaction toward Muslims.
The Rev. Patrick Ryan, a professor of religion at Fordham University in New York, said Catholics tend to be, "rather hostile to Muslims with perceptions colored by things like 9/11 and the persecution of Christians in places like Syria."
The negative attitudes toward Muslims within the Catholic community perhaps mirror the religious intolerance many Catholics in the U.S. faced for decades before the faith became more mainstream, Ryan said. Catholics, for instance, were once targeted by hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan.
"Catholics have forgotten that," Ryan told the Guardian.
Pope Francis has urged the church's followers to embrace Islam as a religion of peace.
"I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence, because every day, when I read the newspaper, I see violence,” Francis said from the papal plane in July when asked about Islamic terrorism. He pointed out that Catholics also commit crimes, including murder.
"They are baptized Catholics. They are violent Catholics," he said, adding: "I believe that it’s not fair to identify Islam with violence. It’s not fair and it’s not true... I know how they think. They look for peace."
Roughly 81.6 million Americans, or about 25 percent of the nation, consider themselves Catholic. Muslims make up less than one percent of the U.S. population, but are expected to grow to 2.1 percent by 2050 because of a high fertility rate, the Pew Research Center noted in April 2015.