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Poll shows anti-Catholic sentiment in US even before sex abuse scandals

Anti-Catholic attitudes, including a belief that Roman Catholics are not permitted to think for themselves, are common in the United States, according to a survey released last week by priest-sociologist Fr Andrew Greeley.

Greeley said the survey was planned long ago and was not inspired by the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church this year. However, he said, the scandal "certainly plays into the hands of anti-Catholics."

The survey of 550 non-Catholic Americans, conducted in March, found that 73% believed that Catholics "do what the pope and the bishops tell them to do," with 52% saying that Catholics "really are not permitted to think for themselves."

Moreover, 83% said that instead of worshiping only God, Catholics also worship Mary and the saints, while 57% believed the statues and images in Catholic churches are idols.

Greeley, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, said the last major testing of anti-Catholic prejudices in America was by pollster Lewis Harris two decades ago.

Although he had not expected those stereotypes to disappear in the interim, Greeley said, he was "staggered" by the extent of their persistence.

Father Andrew Greeley
Fr Andrew Greeley columns

Washington Post

29 May 2002