NEWARK, N.J. -- With their high-priority issues prominent on national agendas, Catholic clergy have been unusually active in politics. Bishops in New Jersey and elsewhere have been especially vocal on matters such as same-sex marriage, national health care and illegal immigration.
Yet polls show that when Catholic bishops press their positions with politicians on such issues, they often do so without the support of large segments of the lay people in their dioceses.
Regarding same-sex marriage -- which the bishops oppose and which the New Jersey Legislature rejected in January after intense debate -- American Catholics are divided, polls have shown. On health care reform, a majority appear to disagree with the bishops' position that no health care bill is acceptable if federal money can be used to pay for abortions. On immigration reform, a third disagree with bishops' call to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, according to a recent Zogby poll.
Critics of religious influence on politics point to the disparities and argue religious leaders are speaking for themselves and for their faith's official teachings, not for those in their pews.