Poll: Catholics say Church out of touch, want change

(Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan (R) chats with other cardinals as they arrive for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 7, 2013.

As cardinals gathered in Rome are set to start the conclave next week to elect the next pope, a new poll finds that a slim majority of Catholics in the U.S. say the Church is out of touch and want the successor of Pope Benedict XVI to move it in a new direction.

Among all adult Catholics, 52 percent say church leaders are out of touch with the views of Catholics in America today, reported a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday.

The same percentage, however, agree the church is moving in the right direction, while 31 percent say it is going in the wrong direction.

Looking ahead to the future of the Roman Catholic Church, 55 percent of adult Catholics want the next pope to move the church in new directions, compared to 38 percent who say the pope should keep current direction.

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"We see a conflicted group: a slim majority say the church is moving in the right direction while slim majorities say church leaders are out of touch with their views and the next pope should change directions," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Despite their views of the Church as a whole, at least 74 percent have a very favorable or favorable view of Pope Benedict XVI, who officially stepped down from his papacy on Feb. 28. He was the first pope in 600 years to resign from the post.

Several of frontrunners to be elected pope hail from Latin American, Asia or Africa.

Brazilian-born Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo,  who is of German descent, and Argentinian Leonardo Sandri, former spokesman for Pope John Paul II, are considered the top two picks from South America.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana would be the first black pontiff since the times of early Christianity if elected and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines is the top contender from Asia.

An large majority of Catholics, 81 percent, agree the church should do more to combat sexual abuse of young people by priests, the survey found. Those results also line up with a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on religion and public life and another survey released the same day from The New York Times and CBS News which found sex abuse by clergy to be the Church's biggest problem.

Among Catholic voters, 54 percent support same-sex marriage compared to 38 percent opposing. This is a dramatic reversal from statistics five years ago that found 55 percent in opposition of same-sex marriage, with 36 in support.

Commented Brown, "Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex marriage."

The results were based on a Quinnipiac University survey taken Feb. 27 to March 4 with 497 Catholics participating. The same-sex marriage question was asked of 1,944 registered voters nationwide.

Quinnipiac University is a private school in Hamden, Connecticut.

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