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In the study: The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans, [Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN, 1997], it is pointed out:

“There is some evidence of persisting unity among Catholics. Most Catholics remain loyal to the Church. Research has shown that the have difficulty imagining themselves being anything but Catholic (Greeley, 1990, Donahue, 1995; D’Antonio, Davidson, Hoge, and Wallace, 1996). Even when they disagree with the pope, they continue to respect him as Christ’s vicar on earth.

Despite the controversy over clergy sex abuse scandals, the recent article by Janet Elder in the New York Times reconfirms the findings of the researchers cited above.

Many Critical Of Hierarchy, But Few Say Faith Is Shaken

Taken from the New York Times

A majority of American Catholics are highly critical of Pope John Paul II and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy for the way they have handled accusations of sexual abuse by priests, according to a CBS News Poll released yesterday. They want some leaders to resign and changes in church law to allow priests to marry and greater involvement of the laity.

The recent. scandals, however, caused no notable questioning of the basic tenets of the faith, and a majority of Catholics said they would still seek their priest's guidance in personal matters and would be comfortable if their children did so. The findings of the CBS News Poll are in line with those of other polls in the last few weeks, which show American Catholics to be saddened and critical of church officials, yet steadfast in their devotion to their religion and supportive of their own priests.

A poll by ABC News and The Washington Post at the end of March showed the same striations in opinion. In that poll, more than half of the Catholics were critical of the national leaders of the church, but that number dropped as the question moved closer to home. Three in 10 were critical of their local bishop's response to the scandal, but only one in 10 disapproved of their parish priest's response.

The CBS News Poll found that despite an abiding affection for the pope, Catholics were divided over whether his leadership had helped the church. More than half of the Catholics said they thought the pope had known all along about the sexual abuse of children by priests. Six in 10said he had not done enough to address the problem.

The nationwide poll surveyed 1,119 adults, including 407 Catholics, by telephone April 15 through 18, and it had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for all adults and plus or minus five percentage points for Catholics.

Catholics and Americans in general said they saw the sexual abuse of children as a persistent and tragic problem in many walks of life, not something more pronounced among the Catholic clergy.

Similarly, in the CBS News Poll, more than 8 in 10 Catholics and 7 in-10 Americans in general said they thought only a few or hardly any priests had sexually abused children in their care. Few Catholics said they had any direct knowledge of a victim of abuse or a priest accused of abuse. Still, about 8 in 10 Catholics said that church leaders should be held responsible for cases that had come to their attention and that those who had handled them poorly should step down.

The CBS News Poll and others found strong support for allowing priests to marry and women to be ordained. The Gallup Poll started asking about allowing priests to marry in 1971, and 49 percent of Catholics said then that priests should be permitted to do so. That number has risen steadily, and in the latest CBS News Poll more than 7 in 10 Catholics favored allowing priests to marry. More than 6 in 10 said women should be ordained. Catholics said that they were worried about the damage to their church from the recent scandals but that it would not affect their attendance at Mass.