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Poll finds scandal hasn't affected people's commitment to church

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

Most Catholics polled for a new survey said the current sex abuse scandal has not affected their commitment to the church and that they agree with the steps the U.S. bishops are taking to address the problem.

Participants in the poll by LeMoyne College and Zogby International also said overwhelmingly that Pope John Paul II should take disciplinary action against bishops who do not remove known abusers from ministries where they come in contact with minors.

The questions were part of the "Contemporary Catholic Trends" joint venture of the two organizations.

The latest telephone survey asked 506 Catholics nationwide their opinions about how the scandal should be handled and how it has affected their involvement in the church.

More than 76 percent of those questioned said the scandal has not changed either how much money they contribute or how much time they are involved at their parishes. Seventy-five percent said they would be unlikely to leave the church.

Nearly 80 percent said the pope should take disciplinary action against bishops who do not remove abusers from ministry where they have contact with minors.

Given statements about possible actions by church leaders, 77 percent said they agreed that "a public apology, a penitential liturgy and a commitment to reach out to victims by U.S. bishops would help achieve reconciliation with the Catholic community and restore trust in their leadership."

About the same percentage agreed that every diocese should have a laity-controlled board to oversee how diocesan finances are spent in settling lawsuits over sex abuse.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops included both those measures in their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" approved June 14.

Nearly 84 percent of those polled said they think allegations of child sexual abuse should be dealt with as a legal matter, with the church turning over all relevant information to police. Ten percent said such cases should be handled as an internal matter.

People were fairly closely divided in their opinion of whether sexual abuse by priests is a moral failing or a psychological disorder.

About 47 percent said they agreed with the statement "acts of sexual abuse by priests are due to a failure of morality, not a psychological disorder over which persons have little control."

About 43 percent said they disagreed.

The LeMoyne-Zogby poll breaks down information in the Catholic trends poll by region, age, education, spouse's religion, marital status, income and frequency of Mass attendance.

In some of the questions about the sex abuse scandal, there were significant differences in the responses of people who attend Mass at least once a month and those who tend to go primarily on holy days or less often.

For example, 44 percent of those who seldom attend Mass said they would be very unlikely to leave the church, compared to 84 percent of those who go to Mass at least once a week.

Those who attend Mass once a week or more were less likely to agree with a statement about sexual abuse being a failure of morality: 49 percent of that group said they agreed with the statement, while 56 percent of those who go to Mass only on religious holidays agreed with it.

In another example, contributions to parishes during the abuse crisis differed slightly by region. About 22 percent of those in the central/Great Lakes region said they have contributed less to their parishes, compared to about 13 percent in the South and around 16 percent each in the eastern and western regions of the country.

The poll was conducted by telephone June 18 and 19. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percent for the whole sample.