Poll: Addressing Sex Abuse Scandals Should Be New Pope's Top Priority

While American Catholics are mostly satisfied with the selection of Argentina's former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the new pope to lead the Catholic Church's 1.2 billion adherents, they now want him to make addressing sex abuse scandals in the church his top priority.

Results of a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and published in The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on Tuesday, show seven-in-ten American Catholics ranking addressing sex abuse scandals the highest from a list of possible priorities for Pope Francis.

The other possible priorities on the list were standing up for traditional moral values, spreading the Catholic faith, addressing priest shortage and reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. Only 49 percent of Catholics overall said standing up for traditional moral values should be a top priority for Pope Francis. Approximately 40 percent selected spreading the Catholic faith, 36 percent chose addressing the priest shortage while 35 percent felt reforming the Vatican bureaucracy should be top priorities for the new pope.

The poll, which was conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults including 325 Catholics, also highlighted that while many Catholics would like the church to make changes to some of the teachings and policies on issues like birth control and marriage, fewer of them expect it to happen.

Some 76 percent of Catholics agree that they should be allowed to use birth control and 64 percent feel that priests should be allowed to marry. Some 59 percent of the survey participants also think women should be allowed to become priests.

When asked if they think any of these changes would be introduced in the Catholic Church, however, fewer Catholics think the changes will be introduced.

Just over 50 percent of American Catholics think the church will definitely or probably change its policy on birth control over the next 40 years. About 40 percent said they expect priests will be allowed to marry by 2050.

When asked how they felt about the selection of the Argentinian Jesuit as pope, about 75 percent said they are happy with his selection. A quarter of them said they didn't know much about Pope Francis to express an opinion.

Almost 90 percent of Catholics who attend Mass at least once weekly said they are happy with the new pope. Only 62 percent of Catholics who attend Mass less often, however, shared the joy. Women tended to be happier than men about his election by an 80 to 60 percent vote. Catholics 50 and older were also happier about Pope Francis' election than younger Catholics.

Half of the Hispanic respondents and nearly the same portion of whites said they are happy with the new pope while a majority of blacks, two-thirds, had no opinion on his election.

When asked if Pope Francis' election represented a major or minor change for the Catholic Church, respondents were divided. Some 44 percent said his election represented minor change while 41 percent of Catholics said his election represented major change.

Since his election on March 13, the most explicit cause highlighted by Pope Francis has been poverty.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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