The Research Team
The sexual abuse of minors by priests, both in the U.S. and around the world, continues to generate headlines and media coverage. To help gain a better understanding of Catholics’ experiences with and reactions to this issue, our current survey included several new questions on the topic.
This survey was conducted online among a sample of 1,442 self-identified Catholic adults who are part of the Knowledge Networks’ KnowledgePanel. The KnowledgePanel is a nationally representative probability sample of the U.S. adult population. Panel respondents who do not have Internet access are provided with Internet service and free laptop computers by Knowledge Networks, which ensures that panel respondents are representative of the national population and are not limited only to those who already use the Internet. Additional details about the KnowledgePanel are available on the Knowledge Networks website at www.knowledgenetworks.com/knpanel/KNPanel-Design-Summary.html.
One key to understanding the way that Catholics approach moral issues and questions of right and wrong is to consider the sources to which they look for moral authority. Are decisions about right and wrong ultimately the province of church leaders like the pope and bishops? Or does moral authority reside with individuals deciding these things for themselves -- perhaps after taking church teachings into account? Or do both church leaders and individuals, working together, constitute the proper locus of moral authority?
In the opening essay (see story), we noted the importance of generation as a variable in the American Catholic surveys of the last 25 years. Today the pre-Vatican II generation is making its final appearance and the millennial generation is coming into its own. This latter cohort, numbering about 15 million in the general population, is more racially and ethnically diverse than earlier cohorts. Currently, Hispanics make up 45 percent of the millennial generation of U.S. Catholics. Within the next generation, it is likely that Hispanics may become the majority among American Catholics. We begin this essay with a description of the demographics that distinguish this youngest generation of adult Catholics.