It’s damn near impossible to describe the Catholic Church these days without talking about child sexual abuse and predator priests, and a recent survey says that’s true for Catholics as well as those of us who are critics of religion.
A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that 79% of Americans believe sexual abuse by Catholics priests is a current issue — which is no doubt disturbing for all those Church defenders who insist recent reports are focused almost entirely on past problems. That could very well be true, but the Church’s past is certainly hurting its future.
Even more damning? How many people believe the Catholic Church is uniquely awful when it comes to abuse.
Nearly half of all Americans (48%) say sexual abuse is more common in the Catholic Church than with other religious groups. And just about everyone else (47%) says the Church is on par with other religions in that regard.
Only 3% of people say sexual abuse is less common in the Catholic Church. (Who knew the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue represented 3% of the country?)
Church leaders can’t seriously claim religion is synonymous with morality when the overwhelming majority of people look at the Catholic Church and think about pedophilia.
It also makes you wonder about the consequences of that connection. If most Americans are aware of the abuse problem, and most Americans think this is an ongoing issue for the Church, and most Americans believe the Catholic Church is at least as bad as other religions when it comes to being a breeding ground for sexual abuse by leaders, then why the hell are people still attending Church and giving it money?!
Well, funny thing about that…
The survey found that more than a quarter of U.S. Catholics (27%) are now going to Mass less frequently or reducing the amount of money they donate to the Church (26%) as a direct result of the sexual abuse scandal.
Obviously, those numbers are smaller among those who attend Church regularly — the literal faithful — but the point is that the scandal has made things worse. Objectively, financially, spiritually worse.
I was also shocked to learn that most Americans (57%) felt sexual abuse was as likely to occur by Catholic priests as it is with teachers or coaches — as if the safeguards that surround adult-child relationships in a secular setting lead to an equally serious problem.
That said, 34% of people said sexual abuse was more common in the Church, compared to 6% who said it was less common. In other words, there are plenty of people who believe abuse occurs everywhere… but among those who believe its worse in some places than others, the Church is hardly a safe space.
Also interesting: 96% of atheists are aware of the Catholic abuse crisis, a percentage that’s even higher than Catholics themselves (95%). 93% of atheists also say abuse is an ongoing problem in the Church, while only 3% of atheists say the problem is in the past. Those are, respectively, the highest and lowest numbers among various “religious” groups.
All of this is thankfully devastating news for the Catholic Church, which has been slow to respond to the abuse epidemic and slow to punish those priests credibly accused of abuse. Remember: Several states’ attorneys general are still investigating the Church and will eventually release their own reports. This story isn’t going to end for the Church anytime soon. Church leaders can pretend all they want that these problems have been dealt with, but their supposed credibility is shattered every time we see a new list of predator priests who were unknown to the general public.
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