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03/11/2013

Canadian Catholics want women priests and better birth control

Couple
A couple takes a photograph of themselves in front of St. Peter's Basilica on Monday in Vatican City, Vatican. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

If Canada’s Catholic faithful had their way, a majority would elect a reform-minded pope who would welcome women priests, end celibacy and adopt a more liberal approach to birth control.

The findings were released Monday on the eve of a Vatican vote that will usher in a new pope for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Most disturbingly among the findings, however: Canadian Catholics who attend church regularly believe that, “sexual abuse by priests continues to occur and remains a problem.”

Some 63 per cent said that the scourge of sex scandals involving priests abusing parishioners – many of them minors – is not over.

Further: 58 per cent of the Catholic faithful in the United States agree.

The Monday release of the Angus Reid poll mainly focuses on want Canadian and American Catholics want in a new pope.

But the zinger that reveals that many Catholics continue to attend church, even though they believe in their hearts that priestly abuse continues, was only tacked on at the end of the poll.

That should inspire some introspection among church leaders.

But on the reform front, the chances of a conservative conclave of cardinals electing a reform-minded pope are basically zilch.

As Mark McGowan, principal emeritus of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto told the Star flat out last week, “we will not be getting a reform pope.”

Still, what is fascinating for those who don’t keep their finger on the pulse of Catholic politics, is just how liberal-minded Catholics in Canada are – even when compared to their American cousins.

Among those who attend church weekly: 62 per cent of Canadian Catholics want women priests, while just 52 per cent of Americans do.

On the issue of celibacy, 71 per cent of regular Canadian Catholic churchgoers want it terminated. In America, only 55 per cent do.

And on matters of contraception and birth control, a whopping 77 per cent of Canadian Catholics who attend church regularly want a more liberal approach to the issue. In the U.S. 59 per cent concur.

There will hoopla when a new pope emerges from behind the smoke this week. But this much is clear: the pope will be “new” – but in the eyes of many progressive Canadian Catholics, it is doubtful whether he will be “improved.”

READ MORE: Follow our live blog as the conclave votes

 Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

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