Poll: Small Percentage of Priests Thought to Be Guilty of Abuse

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As new allegations continue to be made in the Catholic Church scandal, the average estimate by Americans is that less than five percent of Catholic priests are actually guilty of sexually abusing children, according to the latest FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll. However, the survey also shows that the perception of the existence of even this small number has been enough to do terrible damage to the church’s image.

While overall the public is evenly divided on whether media coverage of the priest scandal has been responsible (41 percent) or sensationalized (41 percent), Catholics are slightly more likely to think the coverage has been sensationalized (48 percent).

The survey shows that 41 percent believe the Catholic Church has more problems with sexual abuse of children than other institutions where adults deal with children, 28 percent say the church has the same number of problems and 13 percent say fewer problems than other institutions. Again, these results are more positive among Catholic-Americans: one-third say the church has more problems than other institutions, 34 percent say the same and 19 percent say fewer.

By a fairly large margin, Catholics and non-Catholics alike find the priest scandal more disturbing than the scandal surrounding the collapse of Enron.

"For better or worse, the Enron collapse attracted a lot of professional PR and political consultants on both sides who know how to get a story out and ‘settle’ it in the public mind," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "The church scandal has trickled out with each revelation building on the next and no clear path to resolution. When it appears to be ‘over’ in Boston something comes out of Los Angeles or New York. The sense that it is an evolving problem rather than an incident in the past is particularly troubling to people."

Most Americans today have a "great deal" of confidence in the country's military (77 percent) and a majority reports having a "great deal" of confidence in the president (59 percent), but that number drops to 18 percent for the Catholic Church (35 percent among Catholics). Nationally, about one-third say they have little or no confidence in the Catholic Church, which puts the church on equal footing with the news media at the bottom of the confidence ratings.

Polling was conducted by telephone April 2-3, 2002 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points.

1. I'm going to read you a list of people and institutions. Please tell me how much confidence you have in each. How much confidence do you have in (Rotate):
SCALE: 1. A great deal 2. Some 3. Not much 4. None at all 5. (Not sure)

2. I'm going to read you a list of topics that are currently making headlines in the newspaper and magazines. For each one, please tell me when you see this topic, do you usually:
SCALE: 1. Read the whole article carefully, 2. Skim the article, or 3. Don’t you read about that topic at all? 4. (It depends) 5. (Not sure) 6. (Don't read the newspaper or magazines)

3. Which scandal do you find more disturbing — the one involving the Catholic Church or the one surrounding the collapse of the Enron Corporation?

4. Do you think the Catholic Church has more or fewer problems with sexual abuse of children than other institutions where adults deal with children?

5. What percentage of Catholic priests do you think are actually guilty of sexually abusing children?

6. Do you think the news media coverage of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal has been responsible or has the coverage been sensationalized?

7. (Ask non-Catholics only, n=572) Have you been a member of the Catholic Church in the past or not?