Most Catholics worldwide disagree with church teachings on divorce, abortion and contraception and are split on whether women and married men should become priests, according to a new poll commissioned by the US Spanish-language network Univision.
On the topic of gay marriage, two-thirds of Catholics polled agree with church leaders on its prohibition.
Overall, however, the poll of more than 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries released on Sunday reveals a church divided between the developing world in Africa and Asia that hews to doctrine on these issues and Western countries in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America that support practices the church teaches are immoral.
The disagreement with Catholic doctrine on abortion and contraception and the hemispheric chasm lay bare the challenge for Pope Francis' year-old papacy and the unity it has engendered.
The findings included that 19 per cent of Catholics in the European countries and 30 per cent in the Latin American countries surveyed agree with church teaching that divorcees who remarry outside the church should not receive Communion, compared with 75 per cent in the most Catholic African countries.
Moreover, 30 per cent of Catholics in the European countries and 36 per cent in the United States agreed with the church ban on female priests, compared with 80 per cent in Africa and 76 per cent in the Philippines, the country with the largest Catholic population in Asia.
Some 40 per cent of Catholics in the United States oppose gay marriage, compared with 99 per cent in Africa.
The poll, done by Bendixen & Amandi International for Univision, did not include Catholics everywhere. It focused on 12 countries across the continents with some of the world's largest Catholic populations. The countries are home to more than six of 10 Catholics globally.
"This is a balancing act. They have to hold together two increasingly divergent constituencies. The church has lost its ability to dictate what people do," said Ronald Inglehart, founding president of the World Values Survey, an ongoing global research project.
"Right now the less developed world is staying true to the old world values, but it's gradually eroding even there. [Pope Francis] doesn't want to lose the legitimacy of the more educated people."
After his election to the papacy 11 months ago, Francis seemed to grasp the significance of the divisions among the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. He has chosen inclusive language, has played down the importance of following the hierarchy and has warned against the church locking itself up "in small-minded rules".
Francis appears eager to engage with divisions around sex, marriage and gender and has called a rare "extraordinary synod" this fall on "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family". To prepare for the meeting, Francis has asked bishops around the world to survey Catholics about their views of cohabitation, same-sex parenting and contraception, among other things.
Of the seven questions pollsters asked about hot-button issues, there appeared to be the greatest global agreement on contraception and gay marriage.
Some 78 per cent of Catholics across all countries surveyed support the use of contraceptives, which violate the church's teaching that sex should always be had with an openness toward procreation.