CBS / N.Y. Times poll shows increase in Catholics’ approval of Pope Benedict

ppbxvic260809 Pope Benedict XVI.

Most churchgoing Catholics say their feelings about the Church are unaffected by the Vatican’s handling of recent child sex abuse reports. Among all Catholics, more have a favorable opinion of Pope Benedict XVI now than they did in March. They tend to believe the media reports are blown out of proportion and harder on the Church than others.

The CBS News / New York Times poll split respondents among weekly Mass attendees, all Catholics, and all Americans. Answers from all respondents are thus weighted by differences in Catholic responses.

Weekly massgoers are about evenly split in their opinion of the Vatican’s handling of child sex abuse by priests, with 45 percent saying it is doing a good job. About 58 percent of all Catholics and 66 percent of all American respondents said it is not.

About 77 percent of weekly churchgoers said the Vatican’s handing of recent child sex abuse report has had no effect on their feelings about the Catholic Church, while 69 percent of all Catholics and 52 percent of total respondents said the same. About 20 percent of all Catholics and 36 percent of all respondents said it has made them feel more negative.

Considering their views of Pope Benedict, 43 percent of Catholics say they have a favorable opinion of the Pontiff, compared to 27 percent in March 2010. Unfavorable views increased from 11 percent to 17 percent. Among all respondents, 16 percent reported favorable views, 24 percent reported unfavorable views and 59 percent said they were unsure.

Asked whether the Vatican is mainly trying to prevent child sex abuse or cover up the problem, 75 percent of Catholics and 50 percent of all respondents said the Vatican presently aimed at prevention, while 33 percent of Americans thought cover-ups continued.

However, 74 percent of Catholics and slightly more overall respondents thought the Vatican tried to cover up the problem in the past.

According to the poll, about half of all Catholic respondents thought the Vatican’s response was better now, though half of all respondents thought there was no difference in the U.S. bishops’ response.

On the matter of perceived media bias, about 58 percent of weekly massgoers said the reports were blown out of proportion. About 46 percent of all Catholics agreed, but only 30 percent of Americans overall did. A reported 53 percent of American respondents thought the reports were accurate.

Asked whether the media has been harder or easier on the Catholic Church compared to other religions, 75 percent of regular massgoers, 64 percent of all Catholics, and 34 percent of all respondents thought it was harder on the Church. About 51 percent of total respondents said the media treated the Catholic Church the same as it treats other religions.

About one in ten Catholics said recent abuse reports led them to question whether they would remain in the Church, while slightly more said the reports affected their donations. Almost all Catholics said the reports have not affected whether they are comfortable around their own parish priest.

Asked to name factors contributing to clerical sexual abuse, about 30 percent of Catholic respondents each named celibacy and homosexuality as major factors. More than half of the respondents thought the male-only priesthood was not a factor.

The CBS News / New York Times poll claimed a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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