Poll shows Catholics side with bishops on religious liberty, but warm to Obama

WASHINGTON — A new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are … Continued

WASHINGTON — A new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are at risk in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Catholics seem to be warming to President Obama, even as the bishops lambaste his administration in their fight to roll back a federal mandate that requires employers — with some exceptions — to cover birth control in their health plans.

The poll, released Wednesday (Aug. 1) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as the contraception mandate took effect, found that among Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ protests, 56 percent say they agree with the bishops’ concerns, as opposed to 36 percent who disagree.

That’s stronger than among Americans at large who have heard of the bishops’ concerns, where 41 percent agree with the bishops and 47 percent disagree.

Catholic attitudes on the religious freedom issue seem to have changed since March, when a Public Religion Research Institute survey showed that most Catholic Americans rejected — by a 57 to 38 percent margin — the idea that religious liberties are under siege.

The Pew poll was welcomed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which in June launched a “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign to highlight what they perceive as threats to Americans’ religious freedom.

“The positive response of Catholics who have just learned about the religious liberty campaign launched with the Fortnight is very encouraging,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the USCCB’s chief spokeswoman. “It has been only recently that the bishops have come to recognize the relatively new threats to religious liberty in the U.S.”

As for Catholic voters’ presidential preferences, 51 percent say they support or lean toward Obama; 42 percent back Romney. That’s not too different from all Americans — the poll found they prefer Obama to Romney, 50 percent to 43 percent.

Though Obama certainly hasn’t locked down the crucial Catholic vote, the trend appears positive for the president. In an April Pew poll, Obama trailed Romney among Catholic voters, 45 to 50 percent.

“Catholics in recent elections tend to closely resemble the electorate as a whole,” said Gregory A. Smith, the poll’s lead researcher.

The poll’s best news for church leaders may be their approval ratings, especially after 10 years of the clergy sex abuse scandal that took a toll on the hierarchy’s credibility.

“Most Catholics are satisfied with the leadership of the Catholic church today,” Smith said.

More than eight in 10 American Catholics report they are very or somewhat satisfied with the leadership provided by Catholic nuns (83 percent), and about the same proportion say the same about their parish priests (82 percent).

Seven in 10 Catholics say they are very (24 percent) or somewhat satisfied (46 percent) with the leadership of the American bishops in general, up from the 51 percent a decade ago who said they were either very or somewhat satisfied with their leadership.

The Pew poll of 619 Catholics between June 28 to July 9 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

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  • ONE NATION

    Most USA RCs do not fully agree with the RCC teaching on birth control. Ask them or look at their family size. Those that do, what is their answer when earth cannot feed all the humans? Two billion more humans are due by 2050 at the current rate of growth. Food for thought.

  • ds14

    As a cultural Catholic, I am appalled by the Bishops. Studies show that 97% of Catholic women have used birth-control in their lifetimes. Some would say, it’s immoral to bring more children in the world than you can care for.

    On a related note, I might add that most women pay for a portion of their health insurance. Interesting that the Catholic church is silent on issues affecting men, such as vasectomies and Viagra.

    The Catholic church has lost all moral authority by not protecting the weakest of their flock from pedophiles.

    What ever happened to: There are three things: hope, faith and charity, and of these, charity is the greatest. (Interesting the word has been changed to “love,” which can be passive, unlike charity, which requires action.) What about the ministry of caring for the poor and the sick?

    I can’t bring myself to step into a Catholic church anymore. They are becoming more and more irrelevant, seemingly wanting to take us back to the Middle Ages.

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