Poll: Catholic Church's Image at New Low

Public confidence in the Roman Catholic Church has fallen to its worst since the child sex-abuse scandal erupted early this year, with favorable opinions of the church, approval of its response and trust in its future efforts to deal with the crisis all reaching new lows.

These views in this ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll underscore the Vatican's newly announced approval of a revised policy drafted by the U.S. bishops to handle sexual abuse by priests. Announcing the approval, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re wrote, "It appears necessary to devote every available resource to restoring the public image of the Catholic priesthood."

The poll finds 52 percent of Americans, including three in 10 Catholics, expressing an unfavorable opinion of the Catholic Church, both new highs. Unfavorable views of the church have risen by 25 points among all Americans, and 21 points among Catholics, since February.

Considerably more, 76 percent of all Americans and about seven in 10 Catholics, disapprove of the Church's handling of the issue of sexual abuse by priests — up 10 points since June to a new high. And the intensity of these feelings is deep: Among the 76 percent who disapprove, 58 percent do so "strongly," as do 51 percent of Catholics.

Looking ahead, confidence in the church to handle the issue in the future is also bleak. The poll finds 54 percent of Americans, including about four in 10 Catholics, express distrust in the church's ability to handle the issue properly in the future, up 11 points since June.

It remains to be seen whether the Vatican's approval of a revised policy will do much to assuage these concerns. But after the U.S. bishops' meeting in Dallas last June, just 38 percent of all Americans, and 44 percent of Catholics, thought the meeting produced meaningful improvements in church policy. And that was before the policy was revised.

As would be expected, views of the church are most positive among regular churchgoing Catholics. Among those who attend Mass weekly, 82 percent have a favorable opinion of the church and 70 percent trust it to deal with the sexual abuse issue properly in the future. However, even in this loyal group, most, 58 percent, disapprove of the church's current handling of the issue.

Methodology

This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 12-15 among a random national sample of 1,209 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Field work was done by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.

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