NEW YORK — Nearly eight out of ten Canadians believe that the Catholic Church has done a poor or very poor job managing the global crisis of clergy sexual abuse.
The poll issued by the Angus Reid Institute — Canada’s leading non-profit polling institute — was released on Tuesday during the latest wave of the clergy abuse crisis that has engulfed the Catholic Church over the past year.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative assessment of the Church’s handling of abuse — and a majority of respondents saying that Pope Francis should do more to tackle the crisis — the poll also found that Canadians generally held a favorable view of religious individuals.
On a local level, seventeen percent of practicing Canadian Catholics said there has “definitely” been a problem of clergy abuse within their local community, dating back to the 1970s. Relatedly, another one out of six say there has “probably” been an issue.
While clergy sexual abuse cases have dominated headlines throughout Europe, Latin America, Australia, and the United States, Canada has yet to feel the brunt of the abuse crisis in as direct a way, despite documented cases going back to the 1960s.
When asked to consider the Canadian Church’s job of handling the crisis, fifty-four percent said the Church’s efforts had been ineffective, compared to twenty-seven percent who believed the Church’s efforts had been effective. Another nineteen percent of respondents said they were unsure.
Even so, a majority of practicing Catholics say that their local parish has done “a good or very good job” responding to the abuse crisis overall, however only forty-six percent of practicing Catholics and ten percent of occasional Catholics said that they knew of specific policies or actions their local church had done “to stop and prevent this problem.”
Among practicing Catholics in Canada, awareness of the clergy sexual abuse crisis is very high with eighty-one percent saying they were following it “very or fairly closely.” Such responses were double that of the general population.
As for whether abuse is particularly a “Catholic” problem, forty-six percent of the general population said they believe it to be more common in the Catholic Church than in other religions. Among former Catholics, forty-five percent agreed, however for practicing Catholics that number dropped to twenty-seven percent.
Among the former Catholics polled, thirty percent cited abuse and twenty-nine percent cited its cover-up.
Despite the continued fallout from the abuse crisis, sixty-seven percent of respondents said it has had “no real impact” on their faith, and only eighteen percent noted that their faith has been “weakened” by it.
In addition, only a small minority believed that the Catholic Church offered space for lay involvement, with thirty-six percent of respondents saying they believe there is room at their local parish, and only twenty-seven percent affirming that they believe there is room within the Church as a whole.
On the whole, however, the majority of Canadians have a net favorable view toward Catholics, along with seven other religious groups. Among those surveyed, only Muslims received a net negative score.
Among religious Canadians, more identify as Catholic than with all of the other Christian traditions combined.
In February, Francis held a historic summit at the Vatican where he gathered the heads of every bishops’ conference from around the globe to confront the mounting crisis of abuse. At its conclusion, he vowed an “all-out war” on abuse.
The online Reid Angus poll was conducted in two phases between May 9 and 16 and surveyed 1,611 participants. The polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points and plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212
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