Poll: U.S. Catholics say church is out of touch; most approve of pope’s resignation

Poll: U.S. Catholics say church is out of touch; most approve of pope’s resignation March 6, 2013

From the New York Times: 

Roman Catholics in the United States say that their church and bishops are out of touch, and that the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction on issues like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Seven out of 10 say Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have done a poor job of handling sexual abuse, a significant rise from three years ago. A majority said that the issue had led them to question the Vatican’s authority. The sexual abuse of children by priests is the largest problem facing the church, Catholics in the poll said.

Three-fourths of those polled said they thought it was a good idea for Benedict to resign. Most wanted the next pope to be “someone younger, with new ideas.” A majority said they wanted the next pope to make the church’s teachings more liberal.

With cardinals now in Rome preparing to elect Benedict’s successor, the poll indicated that the church’s hierarchy had lost the confidence and allegiance of many American Catholics, an intensification of a long-term trend. They like their priests and nuns, but many feel that the bishops and cardinals do not understand their lives.

“I don’t think they are in the trenches with people,” said Therese Spender, 51, a homemaker in Fort Wayne, Ind., who said she attended Mass once a week and agreed to answer further questions after the poll. “They go to a lot of meetings, but they are not out in the street.”

Even Catholics who frequently attend Mass said they were not following the bishops’ lead on issues that the church had recently invested much energy, money and credibility in fighting — artificial birth control and same-sex marriage.

Eric O’Leary, 38, a funeral director in Des Moines who attends Mass weekly, said: “I would like them not to be so quick to condemn people because of their sexual preference or because of abortion, or to refuse priests the right to get married or women to be priests. I don’t think the church should get involved in whether or not people use birth control.”

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted on landlines and cellphones from Feb. 23 to 27, when many Catholics were still absorbing news of the first resignation of a pope in 600 years. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points for the 580 Catholics, who were oversampled for purposes of analysis in the survey of 1,585 adults.

And then, buried near the bottom, is this:

Catholics seemed to feel far more warmly toward their local priests than those in the hierarchy. Seven in 10 Catholics in the poll said they felt that their parish priests were “in touch with the needs of Catholics today.” Eighty-five percent of those who attend Mass said the sermons were excellent or good.

Read it all. 

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