POLL: Catholic reactions to the sex-abuse crisis

A New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday on Catholic opinions about the Vatican, the pope, and the abuse scandal is a mixed bag of results, as you might have expected. Laurie Goodstein summarizes some of the findings

A majority of Roman Catholics in the United States are critical of the way Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have handled the reports of sexual abuse by priests, but have confidence in the Vatican to make changes to prevent abuse in the future . . . .

After five years of Pope Benedict’s papacy, Catholics in the United States are estranged from the hierarchy in Rome, with most saying the Vatican is out of touch with the needs of Catholics and more than three out of four saying it is not necessary to believe in the pope’s authority to be a good Catholic.

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Still, 77 percent of weekly Mass-attending Catholics, and 52 percent of the general population, said the scandal has had no effect on their opinion of the Church, and only 1 in 10 Catholics say they are considering leaving the Church over it — well down from 1 in 5 during the first wave of the scandal in 2002.

Benedict’s personal favorability rating among Catholics has actually increased across the board since March, though as many as 38 percent of Catholics (and 59 percent of the general population) say they are “unsure/haven’t heard enough” about him. It is, as Goodstein notes, “a decidedly blank reaction” to the pope, especially given that 58 percent of the general population says the Vatican and Benedict have done a poor job of handing the scandal. (So, they don’t know anything about him as pope, but they know he’s done a poor job of it? Hmm.)

Probably least surprising?

Only 17 percent said the all-male priesthood was a major factor in the abuse problem, while a majority said it was not a factor.

Nonetheless, for more than 20 years, majorities of Catholics have consistently said they are in favor of ordaining women and married men as priests. That trend holds true today, with 6 in 10 saying they favor women’s ordination, and two-thirds favoring married priests. Even majorities of weekly churchgoers are in favor of opening the priesthood to women and married men.

Mary Dunham, a 64-year-old quilter and crafter in Orfordville, Wis., said in a follow-up interview: “The sexual abuse issue goes back to the Vatican. They allowed it to be covered up for so long because they didn’t want the church to look bad. Had a woman been pope, she wouldn’t have allowed it. She would have strung up these guys herself.”


You can see all the results for yourself here. Do people find the results helpful? Muddled? About what you’d expect?


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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