CBS Poll: Did The Bishops Do Enough?

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill. opens the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' meeting in Dallas, Thursday, June 13. 2002. Gregory, the president of the conference opened the extraordinary meeting on clerical sex abuse, calling the crisis that has battered the American church for months "perhaps the gravest we have faced."
Most Americans - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - disagree with the sex abuse policy adopted by U.S. bishops at their meeting in Dallas earlier this month and believe that it doesn't go far enough in punishing priests who have abused children. The public supports nothing less than a zero tolerance policy for priests who have committed sexual abuse, and a large number continue to say U.S. church leaders have done a poor job handling the scandals. Catholics strongly agree.

In a telephone survey done last week, 73 percent of Catholics and 79 percent of Americans overall disagreed with a policy adopted at a meeting of U.S. bishops that would bar priests who have ever sexually abused a child from performing priestly duties, but would let them remain in the priesthood.

Many say this isn't punishment enough. Seven in ten Catholics say that the policy created by the U.S. bishops doesn't go far enough in punishing priests who have sexually abused children. Among all Americans participating in the survey, 78 percent say the policy doesn't go far enough.

Almost all Catholics think a priest who has sexually abused a child should not be allowed to remain in the priesthood. 93 percent of Catholics say a priest should be removed from the priesthood if he has committed sexual abuse, as do an equal number of Americans overall.

Catholic Opinion: More Concerned About Priests Or Victims?

Catholics are divided in their views about where the bishops' sympathies lay during the meeting. While 41 percent say the bishops were more concerned about the priests, slightly more - 47 percent - think they were concerned with both the priests and the victims of abuse. Strikingly, only 3 percent thought the bishops were concerned more with the victims.

Back in April, when the American Cardinals met in Rome, 55 percent of Catholics said the Cardinals were equally concerned with both the priests and the victims, while 33 percent said they were more concerned with the priests accused of sexual abuse, and 8 percent thought the bishops were most concerned about the welfare of the victims.

The public overall is more critical of the bishops. After the meeting in Dallas, 54 percent said U.S. bishops were more concerned with the priests, 32 percent said the bishops were equally concerned with both the priests and the victims, and only 3 percent thought the bishops were more concerned with the victims.

The Catholic Church's Response

When it comes to how well the church has handled the crisis involving sex abuse by priests, 73 percent of Americans - including 67 percent of Catholics - were dissatisfied or angry, and just 5 percent said they are pleased with the way the Catholic Church is handling the situation.

Feelings About Church's Handling Of Scandals














This discontent is reflected in the low marks accorded Church leaders on their handling of the sex abuse scandal. 74% of Americans say U.S. Church leaders have done a poor job handling the recent charges of sexual abuse by priests, and just 17 percent say the Church has done a good job. While this is slightly better than last month before the meeting - when 83 percent said the Church did a poor job, and only 9 percent said the opposite - it is still an overwhelmingly negative assessment.

Catholic Opinion:
U.S. Church Leaders' Handling Of Scandals?

Good job




Poor job





Criticism of the Pope and the Vatican among Catholics has increased considerably from two months ago. Now, 64 percent of Catholics think the Pope and the Vatican have done a poor job handling the scandals compared to 45 percent who expressed that view back in April. It has been reported that the Vatican may not approve a zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual abuse by priests.

American Catholics are much less harsh in their evaluations of local church officials. 50 percent say their local bishop has done a good job handling the recent charges of sexual abuse of children. A higher number - 69 percent - say their parish priest has done a good job handling the scandals.

The Role Of Church Leaders

Americans - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - feel strongly that sexual abuse by priests is a law enforcement matter as opposed to an internal church matter. 88 percent say when church officials learn about accusations of child sex abuse by priests, they should turn the information over to law enforcement authorities. 80 percent of Catholics hold this view. Of everyone we surveyed, just 6 percent thought such charges should be investigated by church officials; 10 percent of Catholics had that point of view.

The public clearly thinks Church leaders need to be held accountable for their actions. 86 percent say Church leaders who helped cover up cases of sexual abuse should resign. An overwhelming majority of Catholics - 79 percent - agree.

Closer To Home: Catholics And Their Own Parish

Of those Catholics who attended Mass on the weekend that the bishops wound up their conference, 43 percent said the priests who celebrated the Mass spoke about the recent charges of sex abuse.

Despite the high marks Catholics give their own parish priests for their handling of the recent scandals, the number of Catholics who would be comfortable if their child was alone with their parish priest has decreased significantly since April. Now, 57 percent say they would be comfortable, compared to 71 percent who felt that way nearly two months ago.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 892 adults, interviewed by telephone June 18-20, 2002. 197 Catholics were included in the sample. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three points for results based on the entire sample, and plus or minus seven percentage points for results based on the sample of Catholics.

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