December 6, 2013

Most U.S. Catholics call addressing clergy sex abuse a top priority


After Pope Francis was elected in March, 70% of U.S. Catholics said that addressing the abuse scandal should be “a top priority” for him.

Pope Francis is creating a new commission to advise the Vatican on how to deal with the ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal, which continues to make headlines in the U.S.

DN_Sex_AbuseEffects from the scandal continue to ripple across the U.S. Catholic landscape. On Thursday, the same day Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley announced the commission’s formation, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis released a list of more than 30 priests it says have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.

The Vatican’s announcement comes after some recent criticism of the pope for not moving more forcefully to confront the problem.

Most Catholics in the U.S. say the sex abuse scandal is one priority they want Francis to address. After the new pope was elected in March, 70% of U.S. Catholics said that addressing the abuse scandal should be “a top priority” for him – more than any other potential priority listed in a Pew Research survey.

Similarly, in response to an open-ended question about “the most important” problem facing the Catholic Church today, far more U.S. Catholics mentioned the abuse scandal (34%) than any other issue.

Francis is the third pope to address the clergy sex abuse scandal in the last decade. When his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, announced plans to step down in February, one-third (33%) of American Catholics said Benedict did an excellent or good job addressing the scandal, while nearly twice as many (63%) said he did only a fair or poor job.

Category: Daily Number

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Angela3 years ago

    I don’t know why anyone would want to be a part of a religion that abuses power and moral superiority to rape and abuse the young and defenseless. What is worse? I recommend a mass exodus, not an inquiry.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      and mass exodus from public schools where much sexual abuse continues.

      More and more people are choosing to home school and are happy with that.

      The Catholic Church was founded by Christ and I personally would never leave it. I want to be with Him in heaven
      regardless what some cardinals and bishops lead immoral lives….their choice with the consequences that follow.

  2. John Thompson3 years ago

    Unfortunately, the committee the present Pope appointed stated in July or August of 2014 that they would not follow local laws on child sexual abuse because they had to follow the ‘moral’ law as if local laws criminalizing the molestation of children are, somehow, immoral. About 5 days later the present Pope said that he would uphold the Vatican’s policy of instructing heads of dioceses to report cases of molestation only to the Vatican. So nothing has changed. This policy requested and put in place by John Paul II, written and upheld by Benedict 16 will continue to be upheld by the present Pope. I will not use the present Pope’s name for I would not shame the Poor Man of Assisi. The shame is on the abusers and those who aid them.

  3. Bob Hoatson4 years ago

    The results of the survey are not surprising. What IS surprising is that Catholics believe the Pope and his appointees/advisors are capable of resolving the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The only solution to the problem is EXTERNAL monitoring without interference. As long as Catholics have faith that the Vatican can and will resolve the clergy sexual abuse scandal, nothing will get done. We need strong attorneys-general who are not afraid to indict.

    Robert M. Hoatson, Ph.D.
    Road to Recovery, Inc. (assisting sexual abuse victims and their families)
    P.O. Box 279
    Livingston, NJ 07039

    1. Eliseo Cabrera4 years ago

      Absolutely agree with statement. Unfortunately, the Catholic Institution will not give up its power and have a long history of perpetuating and shielding the most depraved aspects of human behavior. Through out history they have never stood up to it as they have no moral backbone.

    2. Dan Ogrodowski4 years ago

      Bob, I am a victim and sometimes survivor of repeated rape by a priest. Now I am a creditor in the Milwaukee Archdiocese 3 year bankruptcy proceeding or as Cardinal Dolan put it a legal claim or liability, It speaks volumes when Dolan chose to protect assets instead of children and victims. I am trying to learn all that I can about why some people are hero’s that reach out to us with love to aid us on our individual path toward healing. I have reached out to Tom Doyle, and Jim Connell they are very helpful to me and to others and truly represent courage, and hope. I have read quite a bit about you and you are on my “hero to reach out to list” I am impressed by your relentless pursuit of truth and fairness, keeping your tenacity after all of the attempts to silence you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
      What I cannot understand is why is there Rev. James Connell,Fr. Howard Haase ,Fr. Charlie Wester as the three lone hero’s that stand up against the actions of Archbishop Listecki who asks all victims to come forward for healing and resolution then objects to every single persons case. All but 3 Milwaukee clergy and most fellow Catholic’s remain silent to their archbishop’s display of such obvious duplicity and injustice. The archbishop had to know that his actions would cause more unnecessary pain and isolation to victims/survivors of horrid acts of rape and molestation by clergy.
      To make it worse many clergy and the leadership seem to have a venom and disdain for us. Many of the fellow Catholics say so many hurtful things about us as evidenced by the online comment section of the local newspaper when a article about the bankruptcy is posted.
      If there is any information available about why most don’t care and some dislike victims/survivors of clergy rape and molestation?
      Bob thank you for all that you do to help people like me and to protect children.

      1. John Thompson3 years ago

        Fr. Charlie,

        I was abused by parents, other family members and people outside my family including nuns and priests. For about 10 years I have co-facilitated a support group for adult survivors of child abuse in NYC. I have met and corresponded with hundreds of survivors. People who are abusers were abused themselves. I have never seen or read anything that makes mention of any studies on who some abused children grow up to abuse and some abused children somehow find the courage to face their abuse and work on recovering from it. The abused children who go on to become abusers cannot even admit they were abused. This is the thing about child abusers: They will not admit they were abused and deny they are abusing. Years ago this used to be called a ‘problem of attachment’. But I don’t believe this. I think people who become abusers are so terrified of what happened to them they repress it. But the urge to tell ‘one’s story’ is so strong that they tell it by doing what was done to them to their own or others’ children. My mother sexually assaulted all her children when we turned the age she was when it was done to her and repeated the attacks the same number of times.

  4. Ed Wilson4 years ago

    Appointing a commission with real clout would be a good thing if it is broadly representive of Catholics and not just bishops and high level clergy. However we should not have to wait for a commission to be formed and do a study before those bishops who are known to have mishandled this crisis are removed. This should have happened a while ago and needs to happen now, not after a commission has studied and debated.

  5. Dr. Michael Irving4 years ago

    As a survivor of child abuse and a clinician working with survivors I feel strongly that it is admirable that 70% of U.S. Catholics said that addressing the abuse scandal should be “a top priority” for Pope Francis in his new leadership role in the Catholic Church– more than any other potential priority they say. The Church is one of the most important parts of our live and has always been a place that provides us solace and healing. To discover that children have been so tragically harmed in our most sacred of Institutions leaves us feeling hopeless and at a loss for finding a response of equal measure. The Child Abuse Monument has allowed many of us to have a collective place of acknowledgement, validation and letting go.

  6. John Thompson4 years ago

    Creating yet another committee is more twiddling while children’s lives are being destroyed. The time for words is past. What people want is healing action. Last year on Holy Thursday Francis could have invited survivors who were molested by priests at the school for deaf children in Verona to St Peter’s and washed their feet. But he chose not to do so. Francis may have better PR skills than Benedict but so far he continues to be useless when it comes to the abuse of children by members of the clergy. Beware Wolves in Shepherd’s clothing.

  7. Michael Skiendzielewski4 years ago

    Since 2002, the US Catholic faithful have witnessed time and again, the duplicity, insincerity, hypocrisy of certain religious leaders of the dioceses across this country. Bishop Myers in Newark, NJ as well as Archbishop Nienstedt in Minneapolis-St. Paul have been shown, via statements, correspondence, etc., to be unable/unwilling to protect the children and young adults of the Catholic faithful in their charge. With Bishop Finn in KC, it no further consideration should be given these “leaders” and push for the tough and necessary legislative proposals that will help to protect ALL children, now and in the future.

    There is nothing better to capture the attention of criminals (in this case, alleged child sexual abusers and conspirators/abettors) than the cold steel of handcuffs, fingerprint ink, the bland cuisine of prisons, and the fashion statement of the orange prison jumpsuit.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (Ret)
    Philadelphia Police Dept.

  8. Judy Jones4 years ago

    Now the pope has formed a new “sex abuse commission” to study what? He already knows what to do.
    Pope Francis needs to—
    –Fire every bishop and cardinal who has and still is covering up sex crimes against kids
    –Order the “Catholic Conference of Bishops” to stop hiring lobbying firms to fight the removal of statute of limitations for child sex crimes.
    –Order all high ranking church officials to release all the names of credibly accused clerics/employees, whether they are dead or alive and then turn their secret documents over to local law enforcement to be investigated.
    –Order all high ranking church officials to pick up the phone and report to law enforcement, as soon as they suspect or receive a complaint of child sex abuse. ( church officials have no business investigating these crimes )
    –Turn over all Vatican documents of child sex abuse to the United Nations Child Rights Committee.

    Until the pope takes decisive actions, he is only delaying and stalling the full truth to be exposed, and in the meantime more children will be sexually abused within this secret system. Pope Francis could do the right thing, he does have this power, he just needs the will.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511.,
    SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  9. Packard Day4 years ago

    When will the defenders, protectors, and promoters of the known pedophile priests (i.e. their Roman Catholic Bishops and Cardinal supervisors) be brought to justice?

    If an American high school principal, a US military commanding officer, or a medical doctor had ever tried to do what these horrible men did in shielding their criminal subordinates from the law, they would have all been fired, court martialed, or had their professional licenses revoked forever.

    My counsel is to look to Penn State University for workable solution. Punish the perps, but then go ruthlessly after those in power who made the perps crimes so easy. Deo Confidimus…everyone else, however…