April 7, 2010

Broad Criticism of Pope Benedict’s Handling of Sex Abuse Scandal

Most Catholics Critical as Well

Overview

Amid new revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI’s job ratings for handling the scandal have plummeted. Only about one-in-ten (12%) say the pope has done an excellent (3%) or good job (9%) in addressing the sex abuse scandal; 71% say he has done a poor (44%) or only fair (27%) job.

The pope’s ratings for addressing the continuing scandal have declined sharply since April 2008, shortly after his visit to the United States. At that time, 39% said he had done an excellent or good job in dealing with the abuse scandal, while 48% said he had done only fair or poor.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted April 1-5 among 1,001 adults on landlines and cells phones, finds most Americans (74%) have heard either a lot (29%) or a little (45%) about the pope. Awareness of the pope is nearly as high as it was in April, 2008, just after Pope Benedict XVI’s high-profile visit to the U.S., when 84% of the public had heard something about the pope.

Among those who have heard at least a little about the pope, Catholics express more positive opinions of the pope’s handling of the abuse scandal than do Protestants. Nonetheless, Catholics have become more critical of how the pope has addressed the issue: 59% give him only fair (31%) or poor (28%) ratings in the current survey, up from 40% in April 2008. Catholics who attend church at least once a week are more supportive of the pope’s performance than those who attend church less often – though negative ratings among both groups have risen since 2008.

Protestants are more critical than Catholics in rating the job the pope has done addressing the sex abuse scandal. About seven-in-ten (72%) give the pope only fair or poor ratings, up from 46% in 2008. There is little difference between the views of white evangelical and white mainline Protestants. Religiously unaffiliated Americans are the most critical of the pope’s handling of the abuse scandal: 86% say the pope has done a poor or only fair job addressing the situation.