A majority of Catholics who attend services weekly oppose same-sex "marriage," according to a poll by Quinnipiac University, even though it's release suggested that Catholics largely support the practice.

Among Catholics who are registered to vote and who attend services weekly, 36 percent support "gay marriage," while 55 percent oppose it, according to figures provided to CNA by April Radocchio, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute's associate poll director.

The release announcing the poll, by contrast, said that among all registered voters who identify as Catholic – 11 percent of whom never attend religious services – 54 percent support same-sex "marriage," while only 47 percent of all registered voters are supportive of it.

Based on this finding, Peter Brown, Quinnipiac's assistant director, said that "Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex marriage."

Brown's assertion drew criticism from some Catholic circles, with many suggesting that the poll was flawed in some way.

Pia de Solenni, an ethicist who holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, emphasized that the poll, with a sample of less than 500 Catholics, was "hardly representative" of Catholics in America.

"When you ask someone if they're Catholic, you have to further specify, do they attend church regularly or not," she noted. Survey results are often vastly different between Catholics who do and do not regularly attend Mass.

The poll surveyed 497 Catholics from Feb. 27 to March 4, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent for questions asked of Catholics.

In the release announcing the poll's results, Quinnipiac provided figures for several questions pertinent to Catholics in America. Most of these were issues particular to Catholics, and the answers were broken down so that readers could compare the differences between those Catholics who attend religious services weekly and less than weekly.

However the question asking about support or opposition to same-sex marriage did not have this distinction, merely showing Catholics as a whole.

Radocchio explained the discrepancy, telling CNA that the question about same-sex marriage was asked in the "general issues section" of the poll, and the question was posed to all registered voters.

"We reported them with the breakdowns we generally used with registered voter releases," she explained.

She said that the remaining questions were all "Catholic issues" which were asked only of Catholic respondents, regardless of their voter registration.

Among Catholics who are registered to vote and who attend services weekly, a mere 36 percent support "gay marriage," while 55 percent oppose it, the poll found. Among those who attend services less than weekly, 63 percent support "gay marriage" and 29 percent oppose it.

The margin of error for those figures is plus or minus 4.7 percent. Fewer than 497 Catholics were asked the question, because not all of the Catholic respondents were registered voters, though Radocchio said the number of Catholic respondents about "gay marriage" was "not much less" than 497.

Brown told CNA that the breakdown of the same-sex "marriage" results was not in the initial poll release because "we only have so much space, and can only do so many things up front."

It was "certainly not malicious," he said, and was a "completely benign decision."

The poll also found that while 52 percent of respondents think the Church is "moving in the right direction," 55 percent think the next Pope "should move the Church in new directions." Sixty-four percent said the next Pope should "relax the church ban on contraception," and 62 percent responded that he should support allowing women to become priests.

The responses to these questions consistently showed a stark contrast in the opinions of those who attend Mass weekly, and those who attend less than weekly. For example, of those who do not attend services weekly, 73 percent support the priestly ordination of women. Of those who do attend weekly, that figure is only 38 percent.

De Solenni said the poll "shows the importance of more effective teaching" in the Church.

She noted that "when you ask a question of those who attend Mass regularly, the ratios are almost inverse."

"So if they really want to do a survey that has some integrity, let us know what the standard is for identifying someone as Catholic."

De Solenni added that these issues are not of interest solely to Americans, but to Catholics worldwide. "It's really important that we take a global perspective on this, and look at what people are saying around the world."

She said that polls such as the one conducted by Quinnipiac can be useful in terms of "knowing the audience you're speaking to" and "how much teaching needs to be done."

Such polls, however, are not helpful guides "in terms of telling us which policies we should pursue."