A growing majority of Catholics are sharply critical of the way that the Catholic Church has handled instances of child abuse by priests and believe the scandal has deeply tarnished the church's reputation, according to a national survey by The Washington Post, ABC News and Beliefnet.com.
The survey suggests that weeks of media reports about priests who are sexual predators have led many devout Catholics to wrestle with long-held beliefs and assumptions about their church and its leaders.
Most American Catholics now acknowledge what a majority of them recently denied: Pedophilia is a serious problem in the priesthood. Seven in 10 Catholics said sexual abuse of children by priests is a "major problem that demands immediate attention," up from fewer than half in a similar survey in late February.
"You heard stories, but you never realized it was such a big problem," said Kate Hickey, 45, a college English teacher in Suffern, N.Y., where she attends Sacred Heart Catholic Church. "Now I think it is. First it was allegations, now it's a fact."
The poll's questions fell into three areas: the scandal's impact on the faith of individual Catholics, its impact on the church and how the church should respond. Broadly speaking, the results show no lessening of faith, despite real damage to the church's reputation and a nearly unanimous rejection of past practices that Catholics say allowed sexual abuses to be concealed.
A total of 1,086 randomly selected adults were interviewed.
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