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Prof Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, who commissioned the study, said it showed a widening gap between the Catholic faithful and the hierarchy on issues of personal morality that could prove “disastrous” for the Church.But she added that while Catholics may not be plagued with shame, the study did identify a strain of “puritan guilt” surviving in modern Britain.

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Only 12 per cent of practising Catholics and nine per cent of nominal Catholics polled said they would feel any guilt about using contraception, despite the Church’s strong stance on the issue.By contrast, a quarter of Muslims said they would feel ashamed of using contraception.A total of 57 per cent of Catholics said they would feel guilty about having extramarital sex, only one per cent higher than the general population.By contrast almost nine out of 10 Baptists and Pentecostals said they would feel guilty about adultery as did seven out of 10 Jews and Muslims polled.Anglicans were also slightly more inclined to feel shame about infidelity than Catholics.

Only 19 per cent of Catholics said they would feel guilty about sex before marriage, compared with 50 per cent of Baptists, almost two thirds of Muslims and more than three quarters of Pentecostal protestants.When asked if they would feel guilty about using pornography the response rate among Catholics, Anglicans and Jews was the same at around 30 per cent but far less than all other religious groups.Meanwhile only 15 per cent of non-religious people said they would feel guilty about pornography, a figure which is even lower among men.Prof Woodhead said that while it is known that many Catholics quietly ignore the Church’s teaching on issues such as contraception, it was striking how little “lurking guilt” there was.“It does show that people have distanced themselves completely from the Catholic Church’s teaching,” she said.“Most Catholics are taking authority much more from their own reason and intuition than they are from the Catholic Church’s teaching.