Pope Francis prays in front of a candle in memory of victims of sexual abuse as he visits St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin Aug. 25, 2018. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Canadians give Church failing grade on handling abuse crisis

  • May 28, 2019

OTTAWA -- A majority of Canadian Catholics believe the clerical sexual abuse crisis has been mishandled by the Church, but the scandals have not caused a faith crisis and most Catholics still support Pope Francis, according to a national survey.

Among practicing Catholics, who tend to view the Church more positively, 52 per cent rate the Church response to the crisis as poor or very poor. For Canadians as a whole, however, 78 per cent say the Church response has been poor, while among former Catholics the disapproval rating soars to 93 per cent.

“The sexual abuse scandal has weakened perceptions of the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world, and this survey finds that Canada is no exception,” said the Angus Reid poll, released May 28. 

“Most Canadians (55 per cent) say their opinion of the Catholic Church has been weakened by the clerical sexual abuse problem.”

Despite these findings, the study showed the scandals have “not caused a crisis of faith in Canada today,” although it has “done notable damage” to the image of the Church.

Pope Francis, however, fares better with Catholics when it comes to dealing with clerical sexual abuse. Sixty-nine per cent of practicing Catholics say he is doing a good or very good job. For Canadians overall, however, 60 per cent say Pope Francis is doing a poor or very poor job.

That leaves a “sizeable minority of practicing Catholics (31 per cent) and an even larger number of occasional Catholics (45 per cent)” unsatisfied with Francis on this issue.

“Many Catholics, including — arguably — Pope Francis himself, see a key cause of the problem in the rise of ‘clericalism,’ a term that refers to the primacy of ordained people in the management structure of the Church,” the pollster said.

The poll shows 62 per cent of practicing Catholics believe the Church is “being more open but still guarded” in its handling of the abuse crisis. Just 23 per cent see the Church as “now being as open and up front as possible.”  

The view that the Church is still covering things up is strongest in Atlantic Canada, where 54 per cent feel this way,” the poll found. “In every other region, larger numbers choose the middle option on this question.”

Most Canadians and a large numbers of practicing Catholics believe the Church has been weakened as an institution, according to the poll.

“Ultimately, this is an issue that the Catholic Church in Canada will need to effectively address and move on from if it hopes to recover,” the pollster said. 

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