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Catholic Church’s Handling Of Sexual Abuse Scandal Questioned In Poll

The inside of a Catholic Church sits empty.
Wikimedia Commons
The inside of a Catholic Church sits empty.

The Catholic Church has been under public scrutiny since 2002, when the Boston Globe published stories showing how leadership covered up a series of sexual abuse cases. Almost two decades have passed, but the church hasn’t been able to shake its tarnished reputation.

A poll released earlier this month by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute revealed that Americans are not happy with the way the Catholic Church handled sexual abuse cases. 81.3% of those surveyed felt that the Catholic Church was slow to identify and act on sexual abuse involving clergy.

When respondents were asked why they think the Church was slow to act, the number one response was that the church wanted to “preserve and protect its influence and reputation at all cost.” 

74% of the general population and 84.8% of Catholics listed this as the number one reason.

Consistently through out the survey, Catholics were even harsher on the church than the general population. 65.7% of Catholics surveyed believed abuse was handled internally and priests weren't afraid of getting caught. 

The poll also surveyed how people view the Catholic Church’s leader, Pope Francis. It indicated that the pope’s favorability rating was up slightly from the last poll.

Professor Marc Bugliese standing with arms crossed.
Credit Marc Bugliese
Religion and Theology professor Marc Bugliese from Saint Leo University.

“The general increase in favorable views of the Catholic Church since this past February may also be due to this annual pattern that we typically see,” said Marc Pugliese,  a Saint Leo University religion and theology professor. The pope's approval rating regularly spikes around Easter and Christmas, then dips again in the summer and fall.

Pugliese said that the Pope’s favorability rating has gone down in areas such as environmental and immigration issues, even though his actual policies in these areas haven’t changed.

“The clerical sex abuse scandal is influencing how people perceive the pope and how the pope is doing on these other issues. He continues to address these issues how he has in the past but the ratings continue to go down.”

Since the poll was released, Pope Francis has sent out the Vos estis lux mundi, an Apostolic letter that states how the clergy should handle sexual abuse cases in the future. The document encourages clergy members to go to the police after a sexual assault is reported. It does not, however, require them to do so.

This goes against the popular opinion of Catholics, as 93.6% surveyed said that reporting to law enforcement officials outside the church should be mandatory.

The survey ran from April 22nd through 29th. 1,000 people were questioned online and the margin of error for results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. 

Despite the efforts the Catholic Church has made to become more transparent, Pugliese acknowledged that the sexual abuse scandal continues to be tough to recover from.

“I think it’s a stain, of course, that’s never really going to go away.”

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