Pope Benedict on the Back Foot

Pope Benedict XVI has just celebrated the fifth anniversary of his accession to office, but his position is coming increasingly under fire in the wake of mounting revelations about the Roman Catholic Church’s complicity in the clerical abuse of children in the past.

No overall public opinion rating of the Pope appears to have been undertaken in Great Britain since we last reported on the matter on this website (‘What do we think of the Pope?’, 26 February 2010).

However, YouGov has inserted a couple of pertinent questions in its online survey of a representative sample of 2,095 adults aged 18 and over between 12 and 14 April 2010. You will find the detailed results, broken down by gender, age, social grade and region, at:


The first question asked Britons whether it was right for the Pope (when a Cardinal in 1985) to resist the immediate defrocking of a Californian priest with a criminal record of sexually molesting children on the grounds that ‘the good of the universal Church’ had to be taken into account.

91% of respondents condemned the Pope for taking this position and argued for immediate defrocking of a priest under such circumstances. Only 3% considered ‘the good of the universal Church’ was a relevant factor, with 7% don’t knows.

The second question alluded to efforts by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, two prominent atheists, to get human rights lawyers to produce a legal case for charging the Pope, during the forthcoming papal visit to England and Scotland (16-19 September), over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Church.

Just 15% of the sample favoured the Pope being granted immunity from prosecution while in Britain (11% because the Vatican is a state and 4% because the Pope is a religious leader).

79% (with no great differences by demographic sub-groups) contended that the Pope should not have legal immunity (11% because they do not consider the Vatican to be a state and 68% because, whether a state or not, nobody should be above the law). The don’t knows again amounted to 7%.

The 1982 papal visit to Britain by Pope John Paul II excited a fair bit of controversy, but this year’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI looks set to stir up even more hostility. Not only does the scandal of child abuse in the Church look set to run and run, but secularists and humanists are clearly on the offensive (see our post ‘Cyber warfare breaks out over the papal visit to Britain’, 15 March 2010), elements of the Church of England have been stung by the Pope’s surprise announcement of self-governing ordinariates for former Anglicans, while the ‘no popery’ tradition of British Protestantism is not entirely extinguished.

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

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