When the news broke on July 29 that the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been criminally charged with sexual abuse of a minor, many Catholics likely felt justice was one step closer to being served. Others may have wondered anew how the former archbishop of Washington had been allowed to abuse seminarians and minors for decades.
But a new survey shows that perhaps the likeliest response to the McCarrick news among Catholics was: Who?
A recent survey commissioned by America Media and conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that only 38% of Catholics surveyed had heard of McCarrick.
The ability to name-check the hierarchy is not inherently a sign of engagement with the church. But the fact that the highest-profile case of abuse in recent memory is unfamiliar to over half of the Catholics surveyed reveals a major communication problem within the church, particularly around the abuse crisis.
Data show that Catholics want the institutional church to respond to the crisis, but it has not always done its part to communicate what reforms have already begun or to open up new channels for dialogue.
Twenty-three percent of respondents said they did not know why the abuse crisis happened, and 66% of those surveyed overestimated the percentage of priests accused of abuse.
In addition, approximately two-thirds of respondents did not realize the majority of the abuse cases occurred prior to 1985.
About half of people who attended Mass monthly or more had attended a safe-environment training. Additionally, 84% of respondents said that such training “sufficiently prepared (them) to help prevent or identify sexual abuse” and 90% said the training “helped to make (their) school/parish/ministry a safer place for children.”
A minority of Catholics (33%) said their parish community had helped them to process the abuse crisis. Among those whose parish had been helpful, some of the responses that were named as most effective were the chance for discussion of the crisis outside of Mass (32%), acknowledging the crisis publicly and with openness (18%), and talking about abuse in support groups or therapy (15%).
Despite a desire for public acknowledgment of the crisis, only 29% of those surveyed said they’d heard the abuse crisis discussed in the homily at Mass, and only 26% said their parish had formed a listening group in response to the crisis.
The discrepancy between the stated need and the availability of such resources, and between the desire for transparency but the difficulty in modeling it, highlights a significant challenge facing the church as it attempts to move forward.
The future of the Catholic Church could depend, at least in part, on the church effectively responding to this issue: 36% of Catholic parents surveyed said the abuse crisis made them question whether they should continue to raise their children in the church.
If the institutional church hopes to be effective in its mission, it must keep the protection of its children at the forefront of its actions and policies. But it also depends on how well it empowers all Catholics — lay and religious — to hold the hierarchy accountable, to recognize the ongoing reality of the crisis, and to help one another process the trauma in order to move forward together.
The above comes from an August 3rd story by Religion News Service.