The Roman Catholic hierarchy's attempts to discipline Catholic politicians who dissent from church teaching on abortion are creating sympathy for the politicians among both lay Catholics and non-Catholics, according to a poll commissioned by a national abortion-rights group.
Seven out of 10 Catholics and three-quarters of all respondents in the poll said they do not think Catholic bishops should use the political arena to advance their moral opinions, according to the nationwide poll conducted by KRC Research and Consulting, Inc. for Catholics for a Free Choice.
"Catholics are squarely against the negative bullying strategies that the Catholic bishops are using in the political and pastoral process," said Frances Kissling, president of the abortion-rights group, in releasing the results yesterday.
The findings were denounced by an official at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has mounted a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign to persuade Americans that abortion is wrong.
Helen Alvare, the bishops' spokeswoman on abortion issues, said the survey makes no distinction between church-going and non-practicing Catholics. She said the bishops' polls show the majority of Americans, and 82 percent of church-going Catholics, oppose abortion except in limited circumstances.
KRC, which has done surveys for California gubernatorial candidate Dianne Feinstein (D) and the Boston Globe, conducted telephone interviews with 2,002 randomly selected adults, including 523 Catholics, throughout the country from Oct. 12 to Oct. 21.
In the poll, 46 percent of all respondents said the bishops' involvement makes people distrustful of Catholic officeholders, while 43 percent of the Catholics surveyed said they do not believe bishops' involvement makes people distrustful.
Nearly eight out of 10 respondents, both Catholics and non-Catholics, said that it is inappropriate for the bishops to tell Catholics how to vote.