Despite the slew of abuse allegations and cases surfacing within the Catholic Church, most U.S. adults actually do not think that sexual abuse of children is more common among Catholic priests and leadership than it is among any other adult groups.
The abuse crisis also has caused some Catholics to attend Mass less often and decrease donations to the church, although some personally supported their local parish priest.
The Pew Research Center released a report June 11 revealing statistics about what Americans, and particularly American Catholics, believe about abuse in the Catholic Church.
According to the Pew survey, 57 percent of U.S. adults believe that sexual abuse of children is equally as common among Catholic clergy as it is among other adults who work with children. However, when surveying only non-Catholics, Pew found that only 44 percent believe that sexual abuse is equally as common among Catholic leaders as other adults working with children.
Further, among Catholics, 68 percent believe this is not a uniquely Catholic problem.
Of all U.S. adults, 92 percent have heard about the scandal and 79 percent believe it reflects an ongoing problem, while only 12 percent believe that it is in issue of the past.
Catholics are more likely than any other religious group to believe that sexual abuse no longer occurs within the church. Among Catholics, only 69 percent believe that sexual misconduct is an ongoing problem within the church, and 24 percent believe that it does not happen anymore.
Further, a majority of Catholics, 61 percent, say that sexual abuse is just as common within other religious organizations. Atheists, agnostics and nonaffiliated most closely reflected Catholic statistics on this issue. Forty-seven percent of atheists, 46 percent of agnostics, and 52 percent of nonaffiliated people agree that sexual misconduct is just as common among other denominations as among Catholics.
Only 39 percent of Protestants and 25 percent of Jews believe this to be true.
The Pew Research Center also focused its questioning on American Catholics' internal, local responses to the scandal.
The center found that white Catholics, at 39 percent, are more likely to say abuse is more common in the Catholic Church than are Hispanic Catholics, at 22 percent.
Pew research revealed a clear discrepancy of response between Catholics who attend Mass weekly and those who do not.
Among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, 15 percent have begun to attend Mass less often, and 20 percent have reduced donations to their church. However, 35 percent responded by showing support and encouragement to their local parish and priest.
Among Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly, 32 percent have scaled back attendance and 28 percent have reduced donations. Only 12 percent of infrequent Massgoers expressed support for their local parish and priest.
The Pew Research Center uses the American Trends Panel to gather statistics. Randomly selected adults can participate through self-administered Web surveys. This survey was conducted March 18 to April 1. Out of 8,396 potential panelists, 6,364 responded, creating a response rate of 76 percent.