Despite the active and urgent opposition of their leaders, Catholics and evangelicals support research on stem cells using human embryos, according to a new ABCNews/Beliefnet poll.

Catholics support the research 54% to 35%, and only 18% said religion was a major factor in forming their views--a finding that seems to indicate a gap between church leadership and parishioners. The Catholic Church has said embryonic stem cell research is "immoral" and added, "it is always wrong to directly destroy one innocent member of the human family to help another."

In the poll, the same pattern apparent for Catholics also emerged for white evangelicals. Many evangelical groups--including the Christian Coalition, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Family Research Council--have come out strongly against the research and sent around urgent e-mails on the matter. Yet 50% of white evangelicals polled said they support the procedure, compared to 40% who oppose it.

Critics of stem cell research oppose using embryos to create these stem cells because, they say, the procedure amounts to killing an unborn child for research. Advocates say it can produce new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and for spinal cord injuries. After hearing these competing views, 58% of Americans support the research, while 30% oppose it. Six in 10 say the federal government should fund it.

The findings are politically significant, in part because opponents of the research within the Bush administration have argued that the president should
More on the
Stem Cell Debate

More on the
Stem Cell Debate

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  • What Religious Leaders Say
  • What do you think? Discuss
  • A Stem Cell Primer
  • Stem Cell Research Links