Religion: Blaming the Pope

What ails U.S. Catholicism? Attendance at Mass, private prayer, contributions and most other measures of members' commitment have been skidding for years. One common explanation: the changes in the church since the start of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, including putting the Mass into the vernacular and allowing meat eating on Friday, have confused and alienated the Catholic community.

A major sociological study issued last week, however, claims that such liberalizing measures are in fact highly popular. Instead, the study puts the blame for the U.S. church's decline squarely on Pope Paul's 1968 encyclical against "artificial" birth control. Disillusion over the...