Poll: U.S. Catholics Unsatisfied With Abuse Response

07/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Daniel Burke Religion News Service

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

(RNS) Nearly three-quarters of U.S. Catholics believe the Vatican tried to cover up clergy sex abuse, and a majority says Pope Benedict XVI has handled recent reports of past abuse poorly, according to a new poll, but less than 10 percent have considered leaving the Catholic Church over the issue.

The Vatican has been besieged by criticism in recent months that top officials, including the future pope, mishandled cases of clergy sex abuse, allowing abusers to work in parishes with children, or stalling for years before defrocking serial molesters.

More than half of U.S. Catholics--58 percent--say the Vatican did a "poor job," of handing those reports, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll published on Tuesday (May 4). Less than one in three gave the Vatican good marks on the scandal, and 74 percent said the Vatican tried to cover up the problem in the past.

Still, nearly 7 in 10 Catholics say the scandal has had no effect on their views of the church; a plurality--42 percent--holds a favorable view of church leaders. One in four is undecided and 22 percent have an unfavorable view.

Only 17 percent view Benedict unfavorably, with 42 percent holding a favorable view. Eighty percent of American Catholics say their financial contributions to the church have stayed the same.

As for the scandal's causes, less than one in three said mandatory celibacy for priests was a major factor--28 percent said it was a minor factor, and 35 percent say it was not a factor at all. The issue of homosexuality among priests elicited nearly identical responses.

The poll was based on telephone interviews with 412 Catholics conducted April 28-May 2. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

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