By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK – Nearly eight out of ten Canadians believe that the Catholic Church has done a poor or very poor job managing the global crisis of clergy sexual abuse.
The poll issued by the Angus Reid Institute – Canada’s leading non-profit polling institute – was released on Tuesday and comes at a time when the latest wave of the clergy abuse crisis has engulfed the Catholic Church over the past year.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative assessment of the Church’s handling of abuse – and a majority of respondents saying that Pope Francis should do more to tackle the crisis – the poll also found that Canadians generally held a favorable view of religious individuals.
On a local level, 17 percent of practicing Canadian Catholics said there has “definitely” been a problem of clergy abuse within their local community, dating back to the 1970s. Relatedly, another one out of six say there has “probably” been an issue.
While clergy sexual abuse cases have dominated headlines throughout Europe, Latin America, Australia, and the United States, Canada has yet to feel the brunt of the abuse crisis in as direct of a way, despite documented cases going back to the 1960s.
When asked to consider the Canadian Church’s job of handling the crisis, 54 percent said the Church’s efforts had been ineffective, compared to 27 percent who believed the Church’s efforts had been effective. Another 19 percent of respondents said they were unsure.
Even so, a majority of practicing Catholics say that their local parish has done “a good or very good job” responding to the abuse crisis overall, however only 46 percent of practicing Catholics and ten percent of occasional Catholics said that they knew of specific policies or actions their local church had done “to stop and prevent this problem.”
Among practicing Catholics in Canada, awareness of the clergy sexual abuse crisis is very high with 81 percent saying they were following it “very or fairly closely.” Such responses were double than that of the general population.
As for whether abuse is particularly a “Catholic” problem, 46 percent of the general population said that believe it to be more common in the Catholic Church than in other religions. Among former Catholics, 45 percent agreed, however for practicing Catholics that number dropped to 27 percent.
Among the former Catholics polled, 30 percent cited abuse and 29 percent cited its cover-up.
Despite the continued fallout from the abuse crisis, 67 percent of respondents said it has had “no real impact” on their faith, and only 18 percent noted that their faith has been “weakened” by it.
In addition, only a small minority believed that the Catholic Church offered space for lay involvement, with 36 percent of respondents saying they believe there is room at their local parish, and only 27 percent affirming that they believe there is room within the Church as a whole.
On the whole, however, the majority of Canadians have a net favorable view toward Catholics, along with seven other religious groups. Among those surveys, only Muslims received a net negative score.
Among religious Canadians, more identify as Catholic than with all of the other Christian traditions combined.
In February, Pope Francis held a historic summit at the Vatican where he gathered the heads of every bishops’ conference from around the globe to confront the mounting crisis of abuse. At its conclusion, he vowed an “all-out war” on abuse.
The online Reid Angus poll was conducted in two phases between May 9 and 16 and surveyed 1,611 participants. The polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points and plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.