More than two-thirds think the Church has done a poor job dealing with the situation, which Catholics regard as its most important problem today. More than half think Church leaders in America should resign as a result. Catholics and non-Catholics think the Pope is not doing enough to solve the problem, and most respondents think the Pontiff has known about it all along.
But these scandals have not resulted in a blanket loss of faith by Catholics, or an indictment of the Catholic faith by non-Catholics. Most Americans believe only a few priests have engaged in this behavior, and that the Church is not more likely than other walks of life to have a problem with pedophilia. Very few Catholics personally know a priest who has been accused, or one of the accusers.
THE CHURCH AND PROBLEM PRIESTS
By more then four to one, Americans think the Church has handled the problem of priests sexually molesting children poorly. Catholics concur; 69% of those who identify themselves as Catholics today think their Church has handled things poorly; just 23% think it has done a good job.
HOW HAS CATHOLIC CHURCH HANDLED THE PROBLEM?
Good job 16%
Poor job 69
Good job 23%
Poor job 69
More than two thirds of Americans are closely following the story, with a quarter following it very closely. That group is especially negative. 81% of them think the Catholic Church has handled this poorly. In 1994, after similar charges of child sex abuse by priests came to light, by nearly two to one the public felt the Church handled those charges poorly as well. Still, that evaluation was more positive than it is today; just 47% said the Church had done a poor job then.
Four in five Americans believe that Catholic Church leaders in this country should be held responsible for the way they handled the behavior of priests who molested children. Catholics feel exactly the same way.
SHOULD CHURCH LEADERS IN U.S. BE HELD RESPONSIBLE?
Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston has been encouraged to resign, but has so far rejected doing so. A majority of Americans probably think he along with other Church leaders should resign. 56% of Americans believe Church leaders in this country should resign from office as a result of the way they handled these cases. 56% of Catholics also feel this way.
SHOULD CHURCH LEADERS IN U.S. RESIGN?
Even the Pope has come under fire for his handling of the sexual molestations. 69% think he should have done more about the situation than he has done, while 17% think he has done enough. Even a majority of Catholics think the Pope should have done more.
POPE JOHN PAUL'S HANDLING OF THE SITUATION
Done enough 17%
Should have done more 69
Done enough 29%
Should have done more 60
Few Americans believe the Pope was unaware of the situation. 61% think the Pope probably knew about this problem all along, while 25% think he only just found out about it.
DID THE POPE KNOW ABOUT THESE PROBLEMS?
Among Catholics, nearly as many - 56% - think the Pope knew all along, while 30% think he just found out about the molestations.
Nevertheless, the current problem has not greatly affected overall views of Pope John Paul the Second. In this poll, 37% have a favorable view of him and 15% have an unfavorable view, much the same as in previous polls.
VIEWS OF POPE JOHN PAUL THE SECOND
No opinion 46
No opinion 51
No opinion 56
But Catholics and non-Catholics give the Pope mixed reviews on his leadership. Among Catholics, 43% think that overall the leadership of Pope John Paul the Second has helped the Church, and 45% say his leadership has had a mixed impact. 6% think he has hurt the Church. In 1995, a majority of Catholics said John Paul II's leadership had helped the Church.
HOW WIDESPREAD IS IT?
Despite the criticism of Church leadership, the public so far has not indicted the entire Catholic religion. Most Americans -- Catholics and non-Catholics -- believe this behavior is limited to relatively few priests, and that these problems exist in other professions as well.
Although new charges of molestations continue to come to light, 50% of Americans think this behavior is limited to just a few priests. 23% think hardly any priests have sexually abused children. 17% say many priests have. Women are slightly more suspicious than men.
HOW MANY PRIESTS DO THIS?
A few 50
Hardly any 23
A few 51
Hardly any 33
And most of the public sees this as a problem that exists throughout society, not just in the Catholic Church. 23% believe it is a more serious problem in the Catholic Church than it is in other professions, but 70% think it is just as much a problem in other walks of life. Catholics are even more likely to look at it as a global problem.
More serious problem in Catholic Church 23%
Problem in other walks of life 70
More serious problem in Catholic Church 13%
Problem in other walks of life 81
Few Americans have any direct contact with either a perpetrator or a victim of these crimes. 3% know a priest who has committed such crimes (7% among Catholics). 4% personally know someone who has been molested by a priest (5% among Catholics).
Nearly half the public - including a third of Catholics - think that one of the requirements of priesthood in the Catholic Church, celibacy, contributes to the behavior of these priests. 47% of Americans (35% of Catholics) think this requirement has increased the likelihood that priests will commit child sex abuse. But nearly as many, 45%, think decreased it or has had no impact.
DOES CELIBACY REQUIREMENT AFFECT CHILD SEX ABUSE?
Yes, increases it 47%
Yes, decreases it 3
Has no impact 42
Yes, increases it 35%
Yes, decreases it 3
Has no impact 55
Among Catholics, 35% think the celibacy requirement contributes to this behavior, while 53% think it does not. There is a gender gap on this, however. 44% of Catholic men believe celibacy increases the likelihood of child sex abuse. Just 27% of Catholic women think so.
THE SCANDAL AND CATHOLICS
Americans Catholics view reports of child sex abuse by priests as the most important problem facing their Church today. But it has not led them to question their Catholic faith, or to view most priests negatively. Most are still attending Mass as often as they ever did, and most report the scandals have not affected their willingness to give money to the Church.
Six in ten Catholics cite sex abuse by priests and the cover-up of the abuse as the most important problem facing the Catholic Church today. This is a dramatic increase from April 1994, when just 9% of Catholics said sex abuse by Catholic priests was the church's most important problem. Following the sex abuse allegations are the issue of celibacy of priests (5%) and the shortage of priests and (3%).
MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM FACING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Sex abuse by priest/cover-up 61%
Celibacy of priests 5
Shortage of priests and nuns 3
Sex abuse by priest/cover-up 9%
Celibacy of priests 3
Shortage of priests and nuns 8
Non-Catholics think these scandals are shaking the faith of Catholics; 57% think Catholics are now questioning their own religious faith as a result. The findings in this poll demonstrate that this assumption is far from true. Only 11% of current Catholics say recent charges against Catholic priests involving child sex abuse have led them to question their faith. Nine in 10 (89%) say the recent charges have not done so.
REPORTS OF SEX ABUSE BY PRIESTS LED YOU TO
QUESTION YOUR FAITH?
What the recent sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups have done is to lead many Catholics to question the Church's hierarchy. 48% say recent charges of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have led them to question the authority of Church leaders, while 48% say they have not.
REPORTS OF SEX ABUSE BY PRIESTS LED YOU TO
QUESTION AUTHORITY OF CHURCH LEADERS?
Even many who consider themselves strong Catholics are questioning the authority of Catholic Church leaders. 45% of strong Catholics say recent events have led them to question the authority of church's leaders, while 49% say this hasn't happened.
THE PRIESTS CATHOLICS KNOW
Despite the scandals, most Catholics view the priesthood as an honorable calling, and they continue to trust their own priests. 65% of Catholics say they are personally very or somewhat likely to discuss a serious problem with a priest.
Two-thirds of Catholics say they would be comfortable if their child was alone with their parish priest. And more than three-quarters say that if one of their children wanted to become a priest or nun they would encourage him or her to do so.
WOULD YOU BE COMFORTABLE IF YOUR CHILD
WAS ALONE WITH YOUR PRIEST?
But one in four Catholics says they would be uncomfortable if their child were alone with a priest (with Catholic parents of boys even more concerned - 34% of them would be uncomfortable). 32% of Catholics are unlikely to discuss a serious personal problem with a priest.
The recent child sex abuse scandal has not prompted Catholics to stop giving to the Catholic Church. Just 13% say they are less likely to give money to the Catholic Church. 85% say recent allegations have had no effect on their likelihood to give money to the Catholic Church.
LESS LIKELY TO GIVE MONEY TO CATHOLIC CHURCH
Less likely 13%
No effect 85
Recent reports of sex abuse by priests have also not stopped Catholics from attending Mass. 84% of Catholics say that in the past month they have attended Mass about the same as they usually do. 6% say they've gone to Mass less often, while 9% say they've attended more often.
The scandals are being talked about in many Catholic parishes: 42% of Catholics who have attended Mass in the past month say priests have made statements about the recent charges. Still, more than half (57%) say priests have not made any statements on the subject.
HAVE PRIESTS MADE ANY STATEMENTS ABOUT RECENT
CHARGES AT MASS?
Interestingly, of those who said priests haven't talked about the recent charges, 53% agree with this lack of discussion and do not think the priests should have said anything. 42%, however, think priests should have communicated with church members about the recent child sex abuse charges.
Whatever has happened at Mass, most Catholics are talking about the issue with other Catholics. 56% admit they have discussed the recent charges with other Catholics. 67% of parents with boys have.
IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OUT OF TOUCH?
Today, just as many Catholics say the Church is out of touch with their needs than said so back in 1995. Nearly half of Catholics say the Catholic Church is out of touch with their needs today. Nearly the same number of American Catholics felt this way back in September 1995.
IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN TOUCH WITH CATHOLICS TODAY?
However, in the same period there has been an increase in opposition to the mandatory celibacy of Catholic priests. Now, seven in ten Catholics favor Catholic priests being allowed to marry; only 20% are opposed to the idea. In September 1995, 58% of Catholics favored priests being allowed to marry.
DO YOU FAVOR OR OPPOSE LETTING PRIESTS GET MARRIED?
63% of Catholics favor the idea of women being ordained as Catholic priests, while 29% oppose women becoming priests. Majorities of both Catholic men and women favor the idea of women being ordained as priests.
WHO'S LEFT THE CHURCH?
At the extreme, dissatisfaction with the Church can lead to separation from it. And those who were raised Catholic but no longer consider themselves so have much more negative views on than do current Catholics.
Former Catholics are more likely to think the Church has handled the child sex abuse scandal poorly (77%, compared to 69% of Catholics), and to say the scandals have caused their view of the Catholic Church to become more negative (50%, compared to 29% of current Catholics). These former Catholics are also more likely than current Catholics to believe that celibacy has caused priests to commit child sex abuse (50% vs. 35%).
Finally, former Catholics attribute more blame to Pope John Paul than current Catholics do; 65% say he knew all along about the problem (56% of Catholics concur), and 78% think he should have done more about it (60% of current Catholics say the same).
CURRENT VS. FORMER CATHOLICS
Think church handled scandal poorly 69%
Think celibacy causes sex abuse 35%
Pope John Paul should have done more 60%
Church is out of touch 48%
Think church handled scandal poorly 77%
Think celibacy causes sex abuse 50%
Pope John Paul should have done more 78%
Church is out of touch 74%
Members of this group strongly feel the Catholic Church is out of touch. 74% feel this way while only 11% feel the church is in touch with Catholics' needs.
THE IMPACT ON THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Many believe the Catholic Church has been hurt by the recent reports of child sex abuse. More than eight in ten Catholics are worried that reports of priests sexually abusing children have hurt the church, including 43% who say they are very worried. 17% are not at all worried that such reports have hurt the Catholic Church.
WORRIED REPORTS OF SEX ABUSE HAVE HURT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH?
Not at all 17
But the long-term impact of these scandals on views of the Catholic Church may not be too severe. A majority of Catholics and 49% non-Catholics say the scandals have not affected how they view the Church.
However, among those who say the scandals have had an effect, the effect is damaging. 41% of Americans overall say the charges of sexual abuse have caused their opinion of the Church to become more negative; only 1% says the scandals have caused them to see the Church in a more positive light.
IMPACT OF SCANDALS ON VIEWS OF CATHOLIC CHURCH
More positively 1%
More negatively 41
No impact 52
More positively 2%
More negatively 29
No impact 66
While fewer Catholics say the scandals have damaged their assessment of their Church, but nearly a third of them now see their Church more negatively than they did before the sexual abuse came to light.
The impact now is more negative than it was in 1994, when similar charges against priests were made. Then, 62% overall said the accusations did not affect their view of the Church. 28% said it made their view more negative.
The media gets some criticism, but not much, for the way it has covered these stories. 25% think the media has spent too much time on stories about child sexual abuse by priests, and 52% think it has spent the right amount of time on these stories. 16% think there has been too little coverage.
This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,119 adults, interviewed by telephone April 15-18, 2002. 407 Catholics were included in the sample, and them weighted to reflect their actual proportion of the adult population. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three points for results based on the entire sample, and plus or minus five percentage points for results based on the sample of Catholics.
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