Seven-tenths of the British public can still recall Pope Benedict XVI’s state and pastoral visit to Scotland and England, which took place from 16 to 19 September 2010, but fewer than one-third consider that his presence here was good for the country.
This is according to a poll by Opinion Research Business (ORB) for the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales which was published on 18 September. 2,049 Britons aged 18 and over were interviewed online on 9-11 September 2011. With ORB’s kind permission, the data tables are available on BRIN:
Recollection of the visit was relatively high, at 71% (ranging from 60% to 89% by demographic sub-groups), 91% of whom were even able to remember a specific event or aspect of it, albeit sometimes a negative one.
But approval of the visit ran at only 31% (with the notable exception of Catholics, on 62%), with 36% saying it had been a bad thing (46% in Eastern England, 44% in Scotland, 42% of the AB social group, and 41% of men), and 32% uncertain what to think.
Moreover, the overall favourability rating of the Pope was only 24% (just 2% more than a year ago), against 42% holding a negative opinion of him (rising to 52% in Scotland and 48% among men). 58% (peaking at 69% in Scotland) were dissatisfied with his apology for the child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, compared with 24% who were satisfied.
However, there was more support for some of the messages which the Pope had communicated during his visit, including his statements touching on religion (there were also some more ‘motherhood and apple pie’ homilies about society in general, such as recognizing the worth of all people, including the old and disabled, which few would contradict).
For example, 67% agreed with the Pope that religious people should not be forced to keep their beliefs to themselves in the name of political correctness; 62% that the UK should guard against aggressive forms of secularism; 59% that there is a place for God, religion and virtue in public life; and 51% that schools should teach religion and morals. On the other hand, just 35% agreed with the Pope that true happiness is to be found in God (45% disagreeing).
The rating of the Catholic Church was even lower than the Pope’s. 21% entertained a favourable and 59% an unfavourable view of it. 70% (79% in Scotland) described it as out of touch with contemporary society, and 43% denied that – on balance – it was a force for good (13% more than made the same allegation about religion in general). Opinions were doubtless coloured by the sex abuse scandals, with 45% doubting whether the right steps were being taken by the Church to avoid their repetition.
At the same time, there was some backing for the Catholic Church taking a moral lead in British society, especially in encouraging mutual respect between individuals (48%), promoting self-respect and self-discipline (45%), tackling poverty and social exclusion (43%), developing and sharing strategies to combat child abuse (42%), and defending the family unit and family values (41%). In a separate question promotion of family values and family life was ranked as the most important function the Church could perform.
The Catholic Communications Network’s official press release on the survey majored on this finding (‘Catholic Church should take a lead in promoting the family unit, says poll’). It can be read at:
The press release also highlighted an apparent increase over the past year in the proportion of Britons describing themselves as spiritual or religious, with an implication that this could legitimately be attributed to the papal visit. This was picked up in a brief Sunday Telegraph report (‘Spiritual surge from Pope visit’), which spoke of ‘a lasting rise in religious feeling’.
Yet if the figures are examined carefully, it will be apparent that there was some overlap between the spiritual and religious categories, since all possible responses to this question sum to 105%. Also, when those recalling the papal visit were asked whether it had put them more or less in touch with their own personal spiritual values, 91% said it had made no difference, with the more and less answers cancelling out at 4% each.