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Posted at 01:39 PM ET, 05/15/2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Catholics' Take

President Obama heads to South Bend, Indiana this Sunday to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame University, and while his arrival in town may be met with strongly anti-abortion protesters, the broader Catholic community is more accepting of the president, and his position on legal abortion.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday, a third of Catholics (34 percent, 33 percent among white Catholics) said Notre Dame should rescind its invitation to Obama to deliver the commencement address at the storied school because his views on embryonic stem cell research and abortion diverge from the Church's positions.

But even among those Catholics who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, views on Obama's visit to the university are about evenly split. Among Catholics with more restrictive views on abortion, 44 percent said the invitation should be pulled back, 48 percent felt it should stand, while among those with more liberal views, three-quarters said Obama should speak (74 percent).

Catholics who attend services at least weekly are also more apt to say the school should take back its invitation, 43 percent, than those who attend less frequently. But those frequent churchgoers are far more likely than other Catholics to say abortion should be illegal in mot cases - 66 percent vs. 24 percent among Catholics who attend mass less frequently. Overall, Catholics are about evenly divided on abortion: 50 percent said it should be legal in all or most cases, 44 percent feel it should be illegal in most situations. Just over half of Catholics in a new Gallup poll described themselves as "pro-life."

More broadly, Catholics give President Obama generally favorable reviews on his first few months in office. In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, white Catholics largely approve of the job Obama is doing as president (63 percent said they approve, 36 percent strongly so), and nearly six in 10 (58 percent) said his views on most issues are about right ideologically. About four in 10 called him too liberal, the same level as among whites overall. Views on this question among white Catholics have held steady since just before Obama's inauguration in January.

According to network exit polls, 2008 marked the end of white Catholics' long-standing streak of going with the winner in presidential elections; exit polls showed them giving Sen. John McCain a five-point edge over Obama.

White Catholics who regularly attend religious services were a bit more apt to support McCain -- 59 percent among those who celebrate mass at least weekly voted for the Republican candidate -- while those who attend occasionally (52 percent Obama, 48 percent McCain) or never (49 percent Obama, 51 percent McCain) were more evenly split.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  01:39 PM ET, 05/15/2009

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