Poll: Church weakened by clergy sex abuse scandal, bishops' support high
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Catholic Online) – The Catholic Church is weaker than it was five years ago before the clergy sex-abuse scandal broke, while support for the pope, the U.S. bishops and local priests is strong, according to the results of a nationwide poll of American Roman Catholics.
The March 2007 “Contemporary Catholic Trends” Zogby International survey, conducted in coordination with the Jesuit-run LeMoyne College here and released April 3, revealed that the gains in the approval rating of the U.S. bishops, which topped 70 percent last fall for the first time since 2002, remained statistically unchanged.
A significant majority of the 1,522 Catholics surveyed indicated that their religious faith is an important guide in their daily lives and should provide more influence on public life than it currently does. As well, a majority of those polled agreed with the U.S. bishops on the need for immigration reform and that the war in Iraq has increased the chances of a future terrorist attack in the United States.
Zogby International conducted telephone interviews from its Utica, N.Y., headquarters of previously self-identified Roman Catholics from March 14 - 16. The margin of error of the poll is +/- 2.6 percent. Zogby International has been tracking public opinion in North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe since 1984.
The Le Moyne College/Zogby International poll has been conducted twice a year since 2001.
Forty-one percent of those asked said that the Catholic Church was weaker after the clergy sex-abuse allegations became public, with only 23 percent of U.S. Catholics seeing it as stronger. Thirty-one percent felt that there has been no change in its vitality.
Those that believe it to be weaker are more likely to follow general national news, not follow news about the bishops and are aware of an accused priest in their diocese.
Support for Catholic religious leaders reached the 70 percent threshold for the second successive poll, with 70 percent in March 2007 and 71 percent in the fall of 2006 agreeing that "the U.S. bishops are doing a good job leading the Catholic Church." That percentage had been 83 percent in the fall 2001, but then dropped 15 percent to 68 percent in the spring 2002 and was as low as 58 percent in 2004.
The poll results suggested that Catholic support for the bishops was directly related to whether those polled were aware of a publicly accused priest in their diocese. Overall, 31 percent of respondents say they are aware of a publicly accused priest in their diocese, and these Catholics report less support for the U.S. bishops. Sixty-one of these Catholics said that the bishops are doing a good job leading the church, compared to 74% support among those who are unaware of an accusation.
“The effect of the scandal should be considered diocese by diocese because the perceived relevance of the bishops’ reaction depends on whether or not one knows about a locally accused priest,” said Matt Loveland, an associate sociology professor at LeMoyne College who is the principal investigator for the Contemporary Catholic Trends survey. “The emotional toll is great for all Catholics, but more difficult for those who can put a face on it.”
The poll showed significantly higher levels of support for the work of Pope Benedict XVI and for local pastors than the bishops.
Both the pope and local pastors received the support of 86 percent of respondents, with 68 percent and 47 percent strongly agreeing that priests and the pope are doing a good job, respectively. In 2006, 83 percent agreed that the pope was doing a good job leading the Catholic Church, while 88 percent agreed that the pastors of their parishes were doing a good job.
Religion provides guidance in the daily lives of U.S. Catholics, the survey found. Seventy-two percent agreed that their faith provides quite a bit (34 percent) or a great deal (38 percent) of guidance in their personal life.
A majority also sees that religion should be more influential in American public life. Fifty-nine percent said religion does not currently have enough influence, while 23 percent of U.S. Catholics say religion has the right amount of influence, and 15 percent believes it has too much sway.
A majority of Catholic laity agree with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ support of immigration reform, the poll found. When asked whether the U.S. government should approve begin a program to allow undocumented immigrants to earn permanent residency in the country, 55 percent of respondents agreed.
The Catholics polled were split – 50 percent supporting to 45 percent opposing – U.S. government efforts to address the reduction of income differences between rich and poor,
The March 2007 Contemporary Catholic Trends survey included questions about terrorism and U.S. policies since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Respondents were asked about several possible causes of terrorism. The strongest majorities believed that world economic problems (81 percent), religious intolerance (83 percent), world political instability (85 percent) and the history of conflict in the Middle East (88 percent) are causes of terrorism.
“It appears that American Catholics are aware that the causes of terrorism are complex and multifaceted,” said Lisa McCartan, assistant professor of criminology at LeMoyne College. “Rather than focus on a single factor, they grasp the necessity of viewing the issue of terrorism from a global perspective.”
The political differences that divide the country appear to be salient among U.S. Catholics as well. Fifty-seven percent of those polled saw that “hatred of freedom” as a primary cause of terrorism, with 65 percent those who agreed identifying themselves as politically conservative and only 48 percent feeling similarly identifying themselves as liberal.
On other security related issues, 63 percent of respondents believe the war in Iraq has increased the chances of a future terrorist attack in the United States, and 43 percent feel that the war was necessary as a part of the larger war against terrorism. A majority of U.S. Catholics (56 percent) believes the Patriot Act has made the U.S. safer from a terrorist attack.
Seventy-one percent said that stabilizing Iraq is necessary for the future safety of the United States, breaking down by political differences with 86 percent who agreed identifying as conservatives and only 57 percent identifying as liberal.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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