Poll: Church Must Do More in Sex Scandal
By Barbara Schlichtman email@example.com
The Advocate [Louisiana]
Downloaded January 19, 2003
More than 70 percent of Louisiana voters questioned in a recent statewide survey said the Catholic Church has not done enough to address child molesters in the priesthood.
At the same time, more than three-fourths of the Catholics surveyed said the pedophile priests scandal has not shaken their faith.
Non-Catholics were more likely to say that the Catholic Church has not done enough to address the problem of child molesters in the priesthood than Catholics surveyed in a statewide poll.
The poll, conducted for The Advocate by Edward F. Renwick, asked 750 registered voters:
· Has the Catholic Church done enough to address the problem of child molesters in the priesthood or not?
· The poll also asked the 260 Catholics among the respondents: Has the pedophile scandal in the church shaken your faith?
Of all the voters surveyed, 72 percent said the church has not done enough, and 17 percent said it has. Eleven percent refused to answer or did not know.
Of the Catholics, 65 percent said the church has not done enough, 28 percent said it has, and the rest did not know or refused to answer.
Of the Baptists, 79 percent said the church has not done enough, 12 percent said it has, and the rest did not know or refused to answer.
Of the mainline Protestants, 74 percent said the church has not done enough, 10 percent said it has, and the rest did not know or refused to answer.
On the second question posed only to Catholics about whether their faith had been shaken, 23 percent said the pedophile scandal has shaken their faith, and 77 percent said it has not. Less than 1 percent refused to answer or did not know.
"I have seen no discernible slow down in numbers or revenue," said Bishop Robert W. Muench, head of the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge.
Muench said that people's faith in the Catholic Church continues despite the sex-abuse scandals because their faith is not based on the perfection of any human being.
"While this has caused consternation in all of us, I have not found that people have lost sight of the goal. The goal is Jesus Christ," Muench said.
The sex-abuse crisis began in January 2002 after revelations that the Archdiocese of Boston had moved now-defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite repeated allegations that he was a pedophile. Geoghan has been convicted of child molestation.
Within 12 months, the scandal involved more than 1,200 priests and more than 4,000 minors during the past six decades, according to a recent New York Time survey.
The Baton Rouge diocese has removed six priests in the past 15 years after accusations of sexual misconduct with minors.
The bishops, Muench said, want to do everything they can to help the victims and to make sure there are no repeats of abusive behavior.
In June, Muench attended the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, where the bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter says that any priest guilty of one offense of sexually abusing a minor will no longer be able to be a priest. He will not be able to wear the priestly attire, conduct Mass, preside at weddings or be called "father."
The Baton Rouge diocese already had a policy to deal with pedophile priests similar to the adopted charter. The diocese adopted its policy following the Gilbert Gauthe case. Gauthe pleaded guilty in 1985 to molesting altar boys in and around the Lafayette church parish where he was a priest. He served 10 years of a 20-year sentence.
"With regard to policy, I think the church has done enough," Bishop Michael Jarrell of the Diocese of Lafayette said in a statement.
"Implementation is in progress, and it is too early to judge its effect. There will be ongoing discussion in the church to determine the proper level of response," Jarrell said.
Journalist and author Jason Berry of New Orleans said the overall 72 percent who said the church has not done enough is in line with national polls that show a great disenchantment with the church.
People want a separation of power within the church. It's governance from the top down, he said.
"There's no equivalent of a GAO to investigate," Berry said. The General Accounting Office is a nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs.
Berry followed the Gauthe case and wrote the book "Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children."
In response to the 23 percent of the Catholic voters who said the scandal has shaken their faith, the Very Rev. John Carville, the vicar general for the Baton Rouge diocese, said it is understandable, especially if someone was connected to a victim.
"It would be a faith-shaking experience," Carville said.
The Rev. David Allen also said having one's faith shaken is understandable because the church is an authority system and a value system.
Allen is the Baton Rouge diocese response coordinator in cases of sexual abuse.
"I believe, in Louisiana, we really are trying to address it openly, honestly, commitedly and firmly," he said.
The church and society are in the "infancy" of understanding pedophilia and sex abuse, Allen said. It is a national problem, but that should not minimize that the Catholic Church has discovered it has a problem.
The 72 percent who said the church has not done enough does not surprise Allen, he said. People can respond only to what they see and hear. Probably the majority of what they're exposed to is national media focusing on a few places, such as Boston.
"I do hope, though, people will also look at the bigger issues. What's happening in other churches? In our homes?" he said.
"It is a pervasive, national social illness."
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