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Major New Poll Shows US Catholics Overwhelmingly Reject Bishops’ Effort to Control Catholic Voters and Candidates

June 17, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC—As US Catholic bishops meet in Denver under pressure to craft a definitive policy on communion for prochoice Catholic candidates and parishioners, a major new poll demonstrates that Catholics overwhelmingly reject the high-risk gambit of a handful of bishops to politicize the sacraments.

The poll is the largest and most statistically significant poll available of Catholic opinion on the bishops’ strategy and the 2004 elections. From June 2-10, Belden Russonello and Stewart, a prominent DC polling firm, surveyed 2,239 Catholics, including 366 Hispanic Catholics. Five questions in the poll addressed the strategies of some bishops to employ sanctions against politicians and prochoice Catholics.

  • Attempts by conservative Catholic organizations to pressure bishops to deny communion fails to reflect the position of rank-and-file Catholics: 76 percent disapprove of Catholic bishops denying communion to Catholics who support legal abortion and 78 percent believe that politicians who are Catholic and who support legal abortion SHOULD NOT be denied communion.
  • Just 16 percent believe that politicians who are Catholic have a religious obligation to vote on issues the way Catholic bishops recommend; 83 percent believe there is no religious obligation.
  • Three-fourths (74 percent) rejected the notion that Catholic voters have a religious obligation to vote againstcandidates who support legal abortion.
  • Finally, American Catholics indicated the extent to which the bishops have lost their moral authority with Catholics. When asked how important the views of the Catholic bishops in the US are in deciding whom to vote for, only seven percent indicated that the bishops’ views were very important, 23 percent somewhat important, 30 percent not very important, and a full 40 percent stated the bishops’ views were not important at all in deciding whom they would vote for.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, stated, “Those few bishops who have chosen to use communion as a weapon in America’s abortion war have disregarded the long-standing Catholic principles of political freedom and freedom of conscience as they attempt to set forth a new teaching suggesting how one votes on policy measures can be a grave sin. Simultaneously, they are also ignoring the backlash that is likely to occur when they engage in clearly partisan activities. The bishops have little to gain in attacking Catholic candidates and voters, and this poll shows they have much to lose.”

“Perhaps President Bush would have fared better during his visit with Vatican authorities if he had asked them to urge the US bishops to stay out of partisan politics rather than to more aggressively support the Bush antichoice agenda,” Kissling added.

The poll also asked Catholics for their views on key political issues such as the war in Iraq, job creation and whom they would vote for if the election were held today.

Thirty-nine percent of the respondents indicated that they attend religious services one or more times a week. Fourteen percent attend at least once a month, 36 percent a few times a year, and 11 percent never attend religious services.

The complete poll will be released in July. Kissling explained the early release of this data, saying, “We wanted to share these very important results regarding the bishops’ recent actions while the bishops are still meeting, and we certainly hope that they will listen carefully to the views of the Catholic people.”

Please contact Michelle Ringuette for additional information or to interview Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice. She can be reached by phone at +1 (202) 986-6093 or +1 (202) 550-1321 or by email.

—Statement ends—