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 CNS Story:

PEW-POLL Aug-25-2004 (840 words) With graphic to come. xxxn

72 percent of Catholics say Communion sanctions improper

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Nearly three-quarters of Catholics oppose the idea of church leaders denying Communion to politicians whose public positions on abortion and other topics contradict church teachings, according to a new Pew poll.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Pew's Forum on Religion and Public Life found in a poll conducted in early August that 72 percent of U.S. Catholics believe it is improper for church leaders to deny Communion to Catholic politicians whose views on abortion and other life issues go against church teachings. Twenty-three percent said such actions were proper.

The poll released Aug. 24 found that 64 percent of the general public thought it improper for church leaders to deny Communion. In no demographic segment defined by the pollsters did more than 39 percent of the respondents think such action by church leaders was proper.

The largest segment to agree that such action was proper was 39 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans. Forty-seven percent of this group said it was improper and 14 percent said they didn't know.

The largest percentages of smaller groups of respondents to say church leaders acted improperly by denying Communion to politicians were Catholic Democrats, at 81 percent, followed by Catholic women and self-described liberal Democrats, at 80 percent.

Among some groups polled, however, nearly a quarter of the people interviewed in the Aug. 5-10 survey said they had no opinion on the issue. Black Protestants and people over age 65 were most likely to say they didn't know what to think about the question, by percentages of 23 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Among Catholics, there was little such hesitation to voice an opinion, though. Only 5 percent of Catholics said they didn't know how to answer the question. The largest percentage of self-identified Catholics who didn't have an opinion on the issue was the 8 percent of people who attend church less often than once weekly. Of those, 63 percent said church leaders acted improperly in denying Communion.

The issue arises periodically, but has been particularly prevalent this election year. Following the interim report of a committee studying the issue, the U.S. bishops issued a statement in June saying that "all must examine their consciences" about whether they are worthy to receive Communion, including consideration of their "fidelity to the moral teaching of the church in personal and public life."

A handful of U.S. bishops have said Catholic politicians who support legal abortion would be turned away from Communion at their churches. A great many more bishops have said they would not turn people away, but would encourage individuals to decide for themselves whether their actions represent the proper preparation to receive the sacrament.

Also in the phone survey of 1,512 adults, Pew found overwhelming majorities of nearly every demographic group oppose efforts by political parties to ask for church directories to use in voter registration efforts.

Catholics opposed such efforts by 79 percent, compared to 19 percent who said that would be proper. Of the whole group surveyed, 69 percent said such efforts by political parties are improper. The group most likely to think it proper was black Protestants, by a margin of 45 percent who support it to 44 percent who say it's improper.

In some regions of the country, Catholics and members of other denominations have reported being asked to provide parish directories to local Republican Party organizations. Republican organizers have defended the requests, saying the directories are public documents.

Earlier in August, 16 theologians and other religious leaders of various Protestant denominations called on President Bush to put a halt to the practice, calling it a dangerous precedent in politicizing churches.

The poll also asked people their attitudes toward gay marriage and how important that topic and other issues are in their voting priorities.

Of the whole group, 34 percent said the issue of gay marriage is very important to them in voting decisions, compared to 34 percent who said it's not very important and 30 percent who said it isn't important at all.

Among Catholics, 22 percent said it's very important, compared to 41 percent who answered "not very important" and 34 percent who said it's not at all important to them. The group to whom the issue is most important, according to the survey, is evangelical Protestants who are regular churchgoers, 67 percent of whom described gay marriage as very important to their vote.

The poll also asked people's opinions about embryonic stem-cell research. A narrow majority, 52 percent, said it is more important to conduct stem-cell research than it is to stop such research in the interest of not destroying the embryos.

Fifty-five percent of Catholics said research is more important, compared to 31 percent who said it's more important not to destroy embryos.

The church opposes embryonic stem-cell research.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the whole sample. Among breakout groups, the margin of error may be higher.


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