Catholics to the left of U.S. on social issues

American Catholics are more liberal than the general population on social issues like divorce and homosexuality, despite the Catholic Church's longstanding conservatism on both issues, according to a new survey.

Catholics are more likely than non-Catholics to say that homosexual relations, divorce, and heterosexual sex outside wedlock are morally acceptable, according to an analysis by Gallup pollsters released on Monday (March 30).

In other areas, Catholics are nearly identical to the population at large. For example, 4 in 10 Catholics say abortion is "morally acceptable," compared to 41 percent of all Americans. And 63 percent back embryonic stem cell research, compared to 62 percent overall.

Catholics who attend church regularly hew more closely to church doctrine, but are still more liberal on many issues than non-Catholic regular church attendees.

Twenty-four percent of Catholics who attend Mass regularly say abortion is morally acceptable, compared to 19 percent of non-Catholic regular attendees. And more than half of Catholic regular worshippers say the same about embryonic stem cell research, compared to 45 percent of non-Catholic worshippers.

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The Gallup survey was based on interviews with 3,022 Catholics adults conducted in May of 2006, 2007 and 2008. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Asked whether a range of issues are "morally acceptable," here's how Catholics compared to the general population:

  • Abortion: Catholics 40 percent; 41 percent overall

  • Homosexual relations: Catholics 54 percent; 45 percent overall

  • Divorce: Catholics 71 percent; 66 percent overall

  • Embryonic stem cell research: Catholics 63 percent; 62 percent overall

  • Heterosexual sex outside marriage: Catholics 67 percent; 57 percent overall

  • Having a child out of wedlock: Catholics 61 percent; 52 percent overall

  • Gambling: Catholics 72 percent; 59 percent overall

  • The death penalty: Catholics 61 percent, 68 percent overall

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