The Pope, the Church and the visit – what Britons really think
The Tablet Ipsos MORI surveyElena Curti
- 4 September 2010
Pope Benedict XVI is a more familiar face to Britons than the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet beyond the Catholic Church the public seems still to awaken to his state visit. That is just one finding of a poll conducted exclusively for The Tablet with two weeks to go before the Pope arrives
He’s instantly recognisable, he’s well known as the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics, yet people in Britain have still to be convinced of the importance of the papal visit.
An exclusive poll for The Tablet this week reveals that the Catholic Church in Britain has so far failed to generate interest in the papal visit among the population at large. Two-thirds of respondents neither support nor oppose the visit even though they firmly acknowledge their Christian heritage and believe that religion is a force for good. Nor have the campaigning opponents to the visit won them over. And with thousands of places still not allocated for the three major gatherings in Scotland and England, it would appear the Church has also been unable to excite the vast majority of the British people about the opportunities to see the Pope in person. Despite that, one in 10 of all those interviewed said they would be likely to attend a papal public event.
Conducted for The Tablet between 20 and 26 August by Ipsos MORI, the poll was based on face-to-face interviews with 996 British people over the age of 15. Of these, 117 were Catholics reflecting their proportion of the general population. Perhaps the most surprising finding is the number of people who recognise Pope Benedict from a photograph bearing no clues to his identity. He was correctly named by a sizeable majority of all those polled (65 per cent) who recognised him more readily than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, identified by only half of the respondents. Curiously, Dr Williams is more readily recognised by Catholics (54 per cent) than by the general public (50 per cent), although surprisingly nearly a quarter of the Catholics polled failed to recognise the Pope.
Nonetheless, Pope Benedict is instantly recognisable to 77 per cent of Catholics and is as familiar to them as the England football manager, Fabio Capello (75 per cent).
The Pope is most recognised by those aged 35-44, and AB social grade (based on the occupation of the head of the household being higher or intermediate managerial, administrative or professional). Broadsheet newspaper readers are also more likely than the average to recognise him.
Most of the general public have yet to make up their mind either way about the papal visit – two-thirds (63 per cent) say they neither support nor oppose it. Only one quarter say they support it. Strongest support for the visit comes from Londoners (39 per cent). One in five of the total polled (22 per cent) say they will follow the visit closely. One in 10 of those who say they have no religion will be following closely, as do 19 per cent of members of the Church of England.
Church publicity has paid off and Catholics are much more interested in the papal visit. Most say they support the visit (71 per cent) with almost half declaring strong support for it (47 per cent). Two out of three (68 per cent) say they will follow the papal visit closely.
However, only a tiny proportion of Catholics (6 per cent) say they are certain to attend either the Mass in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, on 16 September, the prayer vigil in Hyde Park on 18 September or the beatification Mass for Cardinal Newman in Cofton Park, Birmingham on 19 September.
Awareness of the Pope’s role as head of the Catholic Church is well understood by the vast majority of the general public (93 per cent) – in fact, more people are aware of this than that the Queen is the head of the Church of England.
There is strong support for British society retaining its Christian culture – 84 per cent among Catholics and 67 per cent among all those polled. The Catholic Church’s strong moral views are judged positively by three-quarters of Catholics though less so by the general public, with only 46 per cent being positive.
Overall the public’s view of religion generally is fairly benign. More than half (52 per cent) say that on balance it is a force for good. The figure rises to 60 per cent among those aged over 65. However, when asked the question with specific reference to the Catholic Church, respondents are not so sure, with only 41 per cent of all those questioned either strongly agreeing or tending to agree that the Church is a force for good. Even fewer Anglicans – 39 per cent – believe this. Among all Christians the figure is 47 per cent. However, a big majority of Catholics (78 per cent) hold that the Catholic Church is a force for good.
Overall, the answers to these questions about the Catholic Church suggest that the clerical-abuse scandals may have inflicted heavy damage on the Church’s reputation. Asked how well or badly the Catholic Church has responded to allegations of child sexual abuse against priests around the world, around one-third (32 per cent) said it had responded very badly and 23 per cent fairly badly. Only 11 per cent said the Church had dealt with the allegations very or fairly well.
Strongest condemnation of the Church’s handling of the sex-abuse allegations comes from those aged 35-54 (60 per cent said it has handled it very or fairly badly) and those aged over 55 (63 per cent). Such a judgement also came from non-believers (62 per cent), and even Catholics themselves, with 30 per cent saying the Church had responded very badly and 22 per cent fairly badly. A mere 15 per cent said the Church had responded very or fairly well.
The British public is revealed to be far from unsympathetic to faith schools. Nearly half the total polled (49 per cent) said that religious organisations should be allowed to run some schools, with the figure for Catholics rising to 68 per cent. Support from Anglicans was lower at 54 per cent.
More than half (55 per cent) of those polled know about the provision in the Act of Settlement that obliges any member of the royal family who marries a Catholic to give up their right to the throne. A large number of these (44 per cent) think this is wrong and, as might be expected, an even bigger proportion of Catholics take this view (64 per cent).
There is keen awareness of one of the main matters that divides the Catholic and Anglican Churches. Fewer than two-thirds (63 per cent) of those polled understand that women cannot be ordained priests in the Catholic Church while among Catholics the figure is considerably higher (74 per cent). Perhaps this demonstrates interest and possibly concern about the issue.
Click here for the full results of the survey