Although the president of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops said this week that they have “turned the corner” on the church’s sex abuse scandal, a poll released yesterday found that rank-and-file Catholics and lay leaders still give the bishops low ratings and think some should resign.
“If the bishops faced reelection today, they’d be in serious trouble,” said John Zogby, president of Zogby International, which conducted the survey.
Geoffrey T. Boisi, a New York investment banker and Catholic philanthropist, commissioned the nationwide poll of 1,004 ordinary Catholics and 100 prominent Catholic executives, professors, writers, foundation heads and government officials.
Eighty-two percent of the ordinary Catholics and 73 percent of the “opinion leaders” said bishops who knowingly transferred priests to cover up for sexual abuse of children should be forced to resign. Both groups overwhelmingly called for greater lay involvement in decision making and more transparency in church finances, according to the July 21-23 poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent for the general Catholic population.
Two-thirds of the opinion leaders gave bishops a negative job approval rating; Catholics in general split evenly, 49 percent positive to 48 percent negative. That accords with a Gallup poll released last week, which found that support for the bishops among frequent churchgoers has started to recover, rising from 35 percent in late 2002 to 49 percent this year.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, referred to the Gallup poll when he told reporters at the conference’s semiannual meeting in Washington this week that bishops have made “significant progress” toward healing the church and regaining the laity’s trust.
But Zogby said the bishops’ job approval rating is still almost 40 points lower than it was before the scandal.