Vancouver - May 28, 2019 - In the popular imagination, the story of the Catholic Church over the last two decades has been one of scandal, attempted reform, and further scandal. Decades of allegations of sexual abuse by clergy - combined with opaque policies for addressing them - have eroded public trust in the Church around the world.
A new public opinion poll from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds Canada is not immune to this trend. And yet, though most Canadians - including practicing Catholics - say the Church has done a poor job of handling this issue, the general public in this country seems to differentiate between the Church as an institution and people of faith more generally.
Scandal in the Catholic Church has not caused a broader crisis of faith in Canada today, though it has done notable damage to Canadian Catholics’ opinions of their Church.
While some of this damage is almost certainly the result of concerns Canadians have about incidents of abuse that took place elsewhere in the world, it’s notable that one-in-three practicing Catholics say their local Church community has had problems with clerical sexual abuse over the years.
Ultimately, this is an issue that the Catholic Church in Canada will need to effectively address and move on from if it hopes to recover. Most Canadians, and many practicing Catholics, say they expect the Church to emerge from this issue weakened as an institution.
More Key Findings:
- One change that some have suggested would help the Church recover is to put greater emphasis on lay involvement in Church operations. Most practicing Catholics (54%) say there is currently adequate room for such lay involvement, but some four-in-ten (40%) say there should be more
- Canadians hold net favourable views of adherents to eight of nine religious groups asked about in this survey, with only Muslims viewed negatively overall (17% positive, 39% negative). Moreover, views today are more positive, overall, than they were in 2015 for every group except Catholics (10 percentage points more negative), Protestants (down 3 points), and Buddhists (also down 3)
- Among Catholics who say their local Church community had a problem with clerical sexual abuse, nearly half (46%) say this issue was not adequately addressed
- Practicing Catholics are more likely than the general population to say the Church’s efforts to address clerical sexual abuse have been “effective,” (58% of practicing Catholics say this, compared to 23% of Canadians overall)