After the Papal Visit

One-quarter of British adults claim to have followed the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland and England, according to a newly-released poll from Angus Reid Public Opinion (ARPO), far fewer than are preoccupied with the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Fieldwork for the survey was conducted on 22-24 September, among 2,005 members (including 173 Roman Catholics) of ARPO’s Springboard UK online panel, although the results were not released until the afternoon of 6 October. Full data tables (with breaks by gender, age, region, social grade and Catholic/non-Catholic) and commentary are available at:

4% of the entire sample of adults aged 18 and over and 19% of Catholics said that they had followed the visit very closely and 21% and 31% moderately closely. 31% of both groups stated that they had not followed it too closely, while 44% of Britons and 19% of Catholics had not followed it closely at all. So, one-half of British Catholics had no great interest in the papal visit. Catholics apart, Scots (43%) followed the visit most closely.

Asked about the arrest during the visit of six men in an alleged terror plot against the Pope, only 22% of Britons and 28% of Catholics were convinced the threat was real. 34% of adults said the threat was not real and 44% were unsure.

The remaining questions focused on sexual abuse by Catholic priests. 31% of all Britons and even 19% of professing Catholics thought that more than one-quarter of all priests had been involved in sexual abuse over the past five decades. 26% and 41% respectively put the proportion at less than one in ten, and 25% and 26% between one in ten and one in four. 17% of all respondents and 14% of Catholics were unsure.

At the same time, 37% of Britons and 56% of Catholics said that the sexual abuse scandal was limited to a few priests in a few locations. 27% and 19% considered that the scandal was considerable and permeated about half of the Catholic Church. 21% and 15% believed that it was widespread and affected practically the whole of the Church. 16% of all adults and 10% of Catholics were uncertain.

80% of Britons (rising to 90% of over-55s) and 68% of Catholics were convinced that the Church had done too little to assist the victims of sexual abuse, most of the remainder having no clear view.

87% of all adults wanted the Church’s hierarchy to acknowledge that it had failed to act, 85% called on the Church to pass to the relevant authorities the names of all accused priests, and 82% expected the Church to provide material support to victims. Almost identical numbers of Catholics agreed with these three propositions. The strongest proponents were the over-55s and Scots.

58% of all respondents (peaking at 66% of over-55s and 67% of Scots) considered Pope Benedict had handled the scandal badly against 20% who thought he had done well. Catholics were somewhat more impressed with his performance, 39% saying well and 42% badly.

Similarly, 43% of Britons but 69% of Catholics deemed the Pope to have been sincere in his expression of sorrow during his visit about sexual abuse by priests. 29% and 15% respectively regarded him as insincere.

All in all, therefore, not much sign of the fabled ‘Benedict bounce’ here.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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