Churchgoing Catholics strongly oppose abortion but divided on embryonic stem-cell research


A new Gallup Poll reports that a strong majority of churchgoing Catholics do not think abortion is morally acceptable. However, it claims about half of churchgoing Catholics dissent from Catholic morality on matters of sexual morality, divorce and human embryo research.

The Gallup Poll, whose results were released on Monday, surveyed 3,022 adults and claims a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points among all adults. About 24 percent of poll respondents identified themselves as Catholic.

According to the results, only 24 percent of churchgoing Catholics thought abortion was morally acceptable, compared to 52 percent of non-churchgoing Catholics. Catholics from both groups approved of abortion slightly more often than their non-Catholic counterparts.

Sixty-three percent of churchgoing Catholics found divorce to be morally acceptable, compared to 77 percent of their non-churchgoing coreligionists and 46 percent of non-Catholic churchgoers.

Asked about the morality of sexual relations between an unmarried man and woman, about half of churchgoing Catholics declared the action morally acceptable while about 77 percent of non-churchgoing Catholics did. This compares to only 30 percent of non-Catholic churchgoers.

The poll also found that about half of churchgoing Catholics believed human embryonic stem cell research was morally acceptable, compared to 70 percent of non-churchgoing Catholics. Jennifer Miller, Executive Director of Bioethics International, discussed with CNA why American Catholics may approve of the use of embryonic stem cell research.

Miller noted that she was not surprised by the poll’s results. She believes that science is progressing at such a rapid pace, that the average American cannot keep up with all the information.

When embryonic stem cell research started to hit mainstream news during the Clinton Administration, Miller explained, the average person "was not typically aware of the differences between embryonic and adult stem cell research." The result was that Americans "lumped the two together" and continue to believe that the Catholic Church unfairly was "opposed to all stem cell research, which of course was not the case."

Today, Miller believes that people are "slowly" coming to learn that "the two are not the same" and that one is morally acceptable, while the other has a "host of ethical questions."

The truth about stem cell research, Miller says is, that scientists initially preferred embryonic stem cell research to adult stem cell research, but that has shifted because scientists can now create "embryonic like" stem cells through "reprogramming" without the ethical consequences of destroying a human life.

When asked why Catholics are supporting embryonic stem cell research, Miller cited a "loss of moral authority" from the sexual abuse scandals as a contributing factor to this dissension.

Another factor, according to Miller, is a societal "‘Me, Inc.’ syndrome, where the truth has become relative to us: when does life begin for me? When do I feel a human organism is the subject of rights and merits protection and care?"

She also explained that when Bioethics International educates people on the ethical implications of embryonic experimentation and noted that the area of most resistance centers on "the value of a life created in a sterile petri dish and frozen." This is because, she continued, "people believe these "embryos will die anyway" they think it is "better to bring about some good from their ‘lives’."

The main issue, Miller believes, is "not a problem of gaps in scientific knowledge, but of our understanding of life in general. This is a question of whether we value life unconditionally, or conditionally. This question is much deeper and in my opinion is at the root of most ethical questions facing society today."


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