A data analysis of research conducted over the last 40 years shows that Catholics in America are more progressive and socially liberal than Protestants.

“American Catholics consistently have shown themselves to be more tolerant of divorce, gay rights, and unmarried cohabitation than have American Protestants and Americans overall, especially in recent years,” said Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight, who conducted the analysis.

He found that countries with a Catholic majority generally have a higher percentage of residents tolerant of same sex relationships and divorce. “The effect isn’t huge,” Bialik said, “but it’s consistent.”

Bialiak drew his conclusions from the General Social Survey, which has been conducted by the NORC research organization at the University of Chicago since the early 1970s.

In summary, his analysis found that more American Catholics believe divorce should be an easier process, and that “gays and lesbians should be given the opportunity to speak publicly, teach, and have books they wrote available in libraries” (this survey question was written in 1973). Also, each of the four times the GSS asked about couples ‘living in sin,’ more Catholics than Protestants found it acceptable.

Roman Catholic bishops released a draft document last week calling for the church to welcome unmarried and divorced couples and the gay community, though a change of heart was apparent in a later version of the document. The tone of acceptance had disappeared.