Reports of sex abuse by priests and other clergy are atop the agenda for two of America’s largest religious groups this week as both U.S. Catholic bishops and Southern Baptists gather for national meetings.
A new Pew Research Center survey examines Americans’ views on the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, as well as in other religious groups. Here are six key findings from the report:
1A clear majority of U.S. adults think recent reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church reflect problems that are still happening. Around eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say the reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops reflect ongoing problems, while far fewer (12%) think the reports reflect problems that happened in the past.
2Reports of sexual abuse among Catholic leaders have recently dominated headlines, but there have also been numerous reports of sexual abuse in other religious organizations. For instance, an investigation earlier this year revealed decades of abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Large majorities of the public say they’ve heard at least “a little” about recent reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (92%), as well as in other religious traditions outside of the Catholic Church (71%). But the public is more likely to have heard “a lot” about abuse in the Catholic Church (58%) than in other religious traditions (21%).
3The public is divided over whether sexual abuse and misconduct is an issue that is unique to the Catholic Church. Roughly half of U.S. adults (48%) think abuse is more common in the Catholic Church than in other religious groups. A similar share (47%) say sexual abuse and misconduct is just as common among clergy in other religious traditions as it is among Catholic priests and bishops.
4There are key differences between Catholics and non-Catholics in views on the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. While majorities in both groups say abuse in the Catholic Church is an ongoing problem, Catholics are more likely than non-Catholics to say that sexual abuse in the church is a thing of the past (24% vs. 9%). And while a majority of Catholics (61%) say sexual abuse and misconduct is equally common among Catholic and non-Catholic clergy, views are more divided among non-Catholics: Half of non-Catholics say abuse is more common in the Catholic Church, while 44% say abuse is just as common in other religious traditions.
5Many Catholics say they have taken action in response to recent reports of abuse and misconduct in their church. For instance, roughly one-in-four Catholics (27%) say they have gone to Mass less often in response to the reports, and a similar share (26%) say they have reduced the amount of money they donate to their parish or diocese. But not all actions taken by Catholics have been negative: About one-in-five (18%) say they have expressed support or encouragement to the priests at their parish.
6Nearly seven-in-ten U.S. adults who say they attend religious services a few times a year or more (68%) say they have not heard their clergy or other religious leaders speak out about sexual abuse, assault or harassment. About three-in-ten (29%), by contrast, say they’ve heard clergy say something about this issue, with a quarter saying their clergy spoke out in support of victims of sexual abuse and 12% saying their clergy cautioned against false accusations of abuse.