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Biggest concern of American Catholics? Sex abuse scandal, poll finds


Cardinals attend a meeting, at the Vatican, Monday, March 4, 2013.

As Roman Catholic cardinals convene in Rome to elect a new pope, American Catholics say that the sex abuse scandal is the most important issue facing the church today, according to a new poll.

Thirty-four percent of Catholics in the United States chose sex abuse or pedophilia in a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that was released on Wednesday. The poll was conducted Feb. 28 through March 3. Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, left the Vatican for the papal retreat of Castel Gandolfo last Thursday.

Nine percent of respondents said they thought the church suffered from low credibility, and seven percent said they felt the church was not modern enough, according to the Pew poll.

What wasn’t on the minds of Catholics? The abdication of the pontiff, a development unprecedented in modern times. Only one-in-twenty Catholics said they considered the lack of a pope among the most pressing issues facing the faith.

Asked what the Catholic Church’s most important contribution to society is, 27 percent of adherents said charitable works including service to the poor, sick, and needy, the Pew survey found. Eleven percent said that moral guidance is the church’s greatest contribution.

The specter of sex abuse has followed numerous cardinals to the Holy See. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles will be among those electing the next pope, despite revelations of abuse under his watch. Recently revealed documents show that Mahony helped to conceal the activities of abuser priests, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Another cardinal, New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan, was deposed shortly before leaving for the conclave in an ongoing case involving the archdiocese of Milwaukee, which Dolan used to head. Hundreds of people have claimed that they were molested by priests in the archdiocese.

A recent New York Times / CBS News poll also found that the sex abuse scandal was foremost in the mind of American Catholics, with seven out of 10 respondents saying that American Catholic church has done a poor job of handling the crisis. In that poll, a majority said that the way the church has dealt with the issue has caused them to question the Vatican’s authority, according to the New York Times.