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Poll: U.S. Catholics Angry At Church

Most Catholic Americans are dissatisfied or angry with their Church's response to the scandal of sexual abuse of children and teenagers by priests - and last week's meeting in Rome of American Cardinals with Pope John Paul II did little to change the negative assessment from Catholics and non-Catholics alike of the response to it by the Catholic hierarchy, including the Pope.

Image of Pope John Paul II
The scandal may even have taken a toll on the overall assessment of Pope John Paul II. Despite his public statement that sexual abuse of children by priests is "a sin in the eyes of God," Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic, do not think he has gone far enough to address the problems of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The Pope's favorable rating is now significantly lower than it was before the meeting with the U.S. Cardinals in Rome.

Just over half (53 percent) of American Catholics now say they have a favorable view of Pope John Paul the Second -- a 16-point drop from almost two weeks ago, when more than two-thirds of Catholics had a favorable opinion of the Pope.

Now, just 25 percent of all Americans view the Pope favorably, while 18 percent view him unfavorably. Before the meeting of U.S. Cardinals in Rome, 37 percent of the U.S. public held a favorable view of the Pope.

Many feel the Pope and the Vatican have done a poor job handling the recent charges of sexual abuse by priests. 52 percent of Americans think the Pope and the Vatican have done a poor job handling the issue. Only a quarter says they have done a good job.

Even Catholics are torn. 45 percent of Catholics think the Pope and the Vatican have done a poor job handling the issue, while 40 percent say they have done a good job. Lapsed Catholics are even more critical: 71 percent say that he and the Vatican have done a poor job handling the sex abuse issue.

Despite last week's meeting, there is still widespread belief that the Pope needs to do more. Overall, 70 percent now say the Pope has not done enough to address the problem of sexual abuse. Among Catholics, 58 percent say he hasn't done enough.

Most Americans believe Pope John Paul probably knew all along about the problem of sexual abuse of children. 57 percent believe this is the case. 31 percent think he just found out. Nearly half of Catholics think the Pope probably knew of this all along.

The Catholic Church's Response
Two-thirds of Americans - Catholics and non-Catholics - are dissatisfied or angry with the way the Catholic Church is handling the scandals. Overall, only 16 percent feel satisfied, and only 5 percent are pleased. By comparison, 45 percent are dissatisfied and nearly one in four is angry.

This dissatisfaction is echoed by negative assessments of the way U.S. Church officials - especially Church leaders - are handling the scandals. 62 percent of Catholics - and 61 percent of the public overall - say leaders of the Church in the U.S. are doing a poor job of handling the recent charges of sexual abuse. The public gives the U.S. hierarchy worse evaluations on this issue than they give the Vatican and the Pope.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

Good JobPoor Job
Church Leaders in U.S.



Good JobPoor Job
Local Bishop



Good JobPoor Job
Parish Priest




The amount of criticism, however, decreases at the lower end of the Church hierarchy, among those prelates closest to Catholic respondents. Just a quarter of Catholics say their local bishops are doing a poor job handling the situation, while nearly half say the bishops are doing a good job. 63 percent of Catholics say their parish priests are doing a good job dealing with the situation.

Some criticism of the Church's hierarchy may stem from questions about whether they are more concerned about the victims of sexual abuse or the priests charged with the abuse. 40 percent of the public - and a third of Catholics -- say the American Cardinals are more concerned about the priests. More than half of Catholics say the Cardinals care equally about both. Less than one in ten - Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- say that the Cardinals are more concerned about the victims.

Americans think more needs to be done in the way of apologies from the Catholic Church's leaders. Two-thirds (68 percent) think Church leaders have not gone far enough in publicly apologizing to the victims of sexual abuse by priests; 18 percent say they have apologized enough. Among Catholics, 59 percent say Catholic Church leaders have not gone far enough in apologizing to the victims, while 26 percent say they have.

Last Sunday, the subject was not ignored in many Churches. Among those Catholics who attended Mass last Sunday, 44 percent said the priests made a statement about the recent charges, and 55 percent reported that nothing was mentioned. Talking about the problem at Mass may have helped: 82 percent of Catholics whose parish priest talked about the scandal in Church on Sunday say they were satisfied with what was said.

Zero Tolerance
By and large, Catholics support a zero tolerance policy when it comes to priests who have sexually abused children or teenagers at one time. Most want those priests forbidden from ever participating in parish life again - even if the priest feels truly sorry for what happened.

66 percent say if a priest is known to have engaged in child sexual abuse at one time in the past, the priest should be forbidden from participating in parish life, even if the priest feels truly sorry for what happened. Only 6 percent feel that if the priest is sorry, he should not be forbidden from participating in parish life.

Catholic women feel more strongly about this than Catholic men - 81 percent of Catholic women would ban a problem priest from participating in parish life, compared with 72 percent of Catholic men.

Catholics want to turn sexual abuse cases involving priests over to law enforcement authorities, rather than keeping the matter within the Catholic Church. 83 percent of Catholics say that when church officials learn about possible child sexual abuse by priests, they should turn this information over to local law enforcement authorities.

In addition, seven in 10 Catholics believe that lay Catholics - not just clergy members - should have a say in what happens to priests who sexually abuse children.

The Meeting In Rome
Many do not think much was accomplished by the recent meeting of the Pope and the American Cardinals in Rome. Among Catholics, only 13 percent think a lot was accomplished. 47 percent say the Pope and the Cardinals accomplished some things, but 33 percent say not much or nothing was accomplished. Among all Americans, only 8 percent think a lot was accomplished.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

A lot






Not much







At a minimum, however, most Americans believe Pope John Paul and other Church leaders who met in Rome took the issue of sexual abuse of children and teenagers by priests seriously.

More people are now paying close attention to the scandals than were before the Rome meeting. 28 percent of the public, and 42 percent of Catholics, are now paying very close attention to the news about the scandals, up from 24 percent and 36p percent respectively about ten days ago.

The actual molestations being discussed today are viewed as from the past, not as ongoing events. 53 percent of the public thinks most of the child sex abuse cases that have been in the news lately actually occurred more than 10 years ago. Even a greater proportion of Catholics - 64 percent - say the cases are at least a decade old.

A Church Problem?
For most, the problem is not unique to the U.S. Catholic Church. Six in ten think it is just as common in other countries as it is in the United States. In addition, a large majority, 77 percent, says the problem exists throughout American society and is not more common in the Catholic Church.

Catholics are unwilling to blame celibacy or homosexuality for the problems among priests. Few think that homosexuality is more prevalent in the Catholic Church than it is in any other walk of life. One in 10 think there are more homosexual men in the priesthood, and 18 percent say there are fewer.

Just over half of the public - and 64 percent of Catholics - think homosexuality in the Catholic Church is not a factor in the child sex abuse scandals. 26 percent think it increases the likelihood of child sex abuse. Non-Catholics are more likely to think there is an impact.

The celibacy requirement is viewed as a much more likely factor than homosexuality in causing child sexual abuse - especially among non-Catholics. Nearly half the public thinks the celibacy requirement for priesthood does contribute to the behaviors of the accused priests; 39 percent say celibacy is not a factor. Far fewer Catholics attribute child molestation to the celibacy requirement.

Americans continue to believe that this behavior is limited to just a few priests. Catholics are nearly twice as likely as the public overall to say there are hardly any priests who engage in child sexual abuse.

Only 4 percent of Americans overall personally know any of the priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children and teenagers, and 6% know a victim.

Blaming Church Leaders
Nearly nine in ten Americans believe Church leaders should be held responsible for the way they handled the cases of sexual abuse by priests. Catholics feel almost exactly the same way.

Americans also think Church leaders who mishandled sexual abuse cases should resign. 80 percent of the public thinks those leaders should resign. Almost as many Catholics - 71 percent - think those leaders should resign as well; just 22 percent of Catholics think they should not.

Those who have an opinion of one Church leader who has been criticized for his handling of the scandal, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, are overwhelmingly negative. Just 2 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Cardinal Law, as do only 5 percent of Catholics. However, many people still don't know much about him.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls




Not favorable






Haven't heard enough




Despite their criticism of Church leaders in the U.S. and of the Pope himself, about half of Catholics think that current Church leaders do represent the best and brightest members of the priesthood. 49 percent think the Church generally promotes its most qualified priests and best leaders to become bishops and Cardinals. 27 percent think it does not.

Catholics And The State Of The Catholic Church Today
Parish priests get better reviews than the Vatican and the U.S. bishops and cardinals for their handling of the recent scandals, and in general Catholics are more comfortable with the priests close to them than with the Church hierarchy. The hierarchy is viewed as out of touch and more conservative than today's Catholics consider themselves. In fact, it is out of touch on some specific issues.

By 55 percent to 40 percent, Catholics think the Catholic Church itself is out of touch with the needs of Catholics today. Catholics see their own priest as much more in touch with their needs; 65 percent think he is in touch with today's Catholics, and 27 percent think he is not.

More than half of Catholics think the Pope is more conservative than they are themselves on matters of morality. However, once again their local parish priests are viewed as someone Catholics relate to more easily. 51 percent say he holds moral positions similar to their own.

The views of most Catholics are in opposition to Church doctrine on several specific issues of morality. 71 percent of Catholics favor using artificial methods of birth control, and only 32 percent think abortion should not be permitted. Nearly two thirds favor the death penalty.

And Catholics' views further conflict with their Church on matters relating to internal Church policies. As has been shown in previous polls, majorities of Catholics favor letting priests get married and ordaining women. Almost half would allow homosexual men to become priests as long as they remain celibate, although about the same proportion would not.

Despite these differences, religion plays an important role in guiding the personal choices of many Catholics. 47 percent say they use their religious beliefs frequently to help them decide what to do in a typical day, and 26 percent use their beliefs occasionally. 60 percent say they are very or somewhat likely to discuss a serious problem with their priest.

And few Catholics have changed their religious behavior as a result of recent events. Only 17 percent of current Catholics say they are less likely to give money to the Catholic Church. 89 percent have not varied their attendance at Mass in the past month. 87 percent say the scandals have not affected how comfortable they feel around their own parish priest. 71 percent of Catholics would be comfortable allowing their child to be alone with their parish priest, and 72 percent would encourage their children to become a nun or a priest.

The Pope's Role Today
More Americans see the Pope as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and not as a moral and humanitarian spokesman for all people. 52 percent view Pope John Paul as a Catholic leader, while 31 percent see him as a moral spokesman for all people.

Catholics are more willing to view the Pope as a global spokesman. 46 percent view the Pope as a moral and humanitarian spokesman for all people regardless of religion, while 41 percent see him solely as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

But many have a mixed view of his leadership of that Church. 46 percent of Catholics think the Pope's leadership has helped the church, but 42 percent describe it as a mixed blessing. Few Catholics, however, think his leadership has hurt the Church.

One change in the last seven years is on views about the Pope's control of the Church in the U.S. One in four Catholics, twice as many as in 1995, thinks the Pope should exert more control over the American Catholic Church.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,172 adults, interviewed by telephone April 28-May 1, 2002. 433 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.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

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