Religion and Social Trends

Americans, Catholics Continue to Criticize Church's Handling of Sex Abuse Cases

Catholics favor strict approach for those found guilty of abuse

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will convene in Dallas next week to discuss matters facing the church, most notably the problem of priests' sexual abuse of young people. A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds that the vast majorities of Americans and of Catholics continue to feel the church has done a bad job handling the problem, and both groups have grown slightly more critical of the church compared with a month ago. As the church considers a new policy to deal with priests who abuse young people, most American Catholics support a strict approach by the church toward such priests.

The poll, conducted May 28-29, finds 79% of Americans saying the Catholic Church is doing a bad job of dealing with the problem of sexual abuse by priests, and only 12% saying it is doing a good job. The percentage that says the church is handling the situation badly has increased from 68% in a March 18-20 poll and 73% in an April 29-May 1 poll.

Catholic Church Doing a Good Job or Bad Job
Handling Sexual Abuse Committed by Priests:
Among National Adults

Catholics are similarly critical of the church, with 75% saying it is doing a bad job and just 20% saying it is doing a good job. The latest numbers suggest that Catholics, too, are becoming somewhat more critical of its leaders' handling of the situation, when compared with polls conducted earlier this year. Catholics are also far more critical of the church now than they were during a similar controversy in 1993.

Catholic Church Doing a Good Job or Bad Job
Handling Sexual Abuse Committed by Priests:
Among Catholics

Catholics Support Strict Abuse Policy

When asked about what the church's policy should be in specific circumstances, most Catholics express support for a very strict approach to sexual abuse by priests. For example, 77% of Catholics say a priest who has been found guilty of sexually abusing a young person in the past should be removed from the priesthood altogether. Only 18% of Catholics favor allowing the offender to remain a priest either in a role in which he would not have contact with parishioners (13%) or remain as a parish priest if he apologizes and successfully undergoes counseling (5%).

The question of what to do with past abusers, specifically those found guilty of only one past instance, is a source of disagreement among the bishops. The church's new policy may allow one-time abusers to remain priests if they meet certain conditions the church sets. An April 29-May 1 poll showed Catholics are somewhat more forgiving toward one-time offenders, but still a majority, 66%, thinks they should not be allowed to continue as priests. About one in three Catholics, 31%, says a one-time offender should be allowed to remain a priest in some capacity.

The church is considering adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward future cases of sexual abuse by priests, dismissing any priest found guilty of sexual abuse. The poll suggests most Catholics would support the proposal, as 82% favor a priest's dismissal from the priesthood if he is found guilty of sexually abusing a young person in the future, while just 15% support allowing him to continue as a priest.

Preferred Actions for Priest Guilty of Sexual Abuse

Eighty-seven percent of Catholics would also favor the pope dismissing a bishop or cardinal who knew of abuse but did not report it, similar to the case of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. Fewer than one in 10 Catholics believes the pope should not remove such a person as head of a Catholic archdiocese.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,003 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 28-29, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3%. Results based on the subsample of 256 Catholics have a maximum error attributable to sampling of ±7%. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Overall, do you think the Catholic Church has done a good job or a bad job in dealing with the problem of sexual abuse committed by its priests?

 

Good job

Bad job

No opinion

National Adults

2002 May 28-29

12%

79%

9%

2002 Apr 29-May 1

18

73

9

2002 Mar 18-20

17

68

15

Catholics

2002 May 28-29 ^

20

75

5

2002 Apr 29-May 1

24

70

6

2002 Mar

20

72

8

1993 Aug 3-5

35

53

12

^

BASED ON –256—CATHOLICS



If a Catholic bishop or cardinal knew that a priest had been sexually abusing young people and had moved the priest to another parish rather than report him to the police, do you think the Pope should -- or should not -- remove that bishop or cardinal as head of that diocese?

BASED ON --256-- CATHOLICS

 

Yes, should

No, should not

No opinion

2002 May 28-29

87%

9%

4%

2002 Apr 29-May 1

86%

9%

5%



What should the Church do with a priest who has been found guilty of sexually abusing a young person in the past? Should the Church -- [ROTATED: remove him from the priesthood altogether, remove him from any parish or personal contact with any of the laity, but not dismiss him from the priesthood, or allow him to remain in a parish or other ministry if he apologizes and successfully goes through counseling]?

BASED ON --256-- CATHOLICS

 


Remove altogether

Remove
from parish but do not dismiss

Allow to
remain
in parish


No
opinion

2002 May 28-29

77%

13%

5%

5%



What should the Church do in the future with a priest who is found guilty of sexually abusing young people? Should the Church -- [ROTATED: remove him from the priesthood altogether, remove him from any parish or personal contact with any of the laity, but not dismiss him from the priesthood, or allow him to remain in a parish or other ministry if he apologizes and successfully goes through counseling?]

BASED ON --256-- CATHOLICS

 


Remove altogether

Remove
from parish but do not dismiss

Allow to
remain
in parish


No
opinion

2002 May 28-29

82%

12%

3%

3%



Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/6154/Americans-Catholics-Continue-Criticize-Churchs-Handling-Sex-Abuse-Cases.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030