Notes on a (sex crime) scandal: The impact of media coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church on public opinion

Christina Mancini, Ryan T. Shields

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Public opinion scholarship has identified the media as a driving force behind decidedly negative public sentiment about crime and justice. We draw on this media cultivation framework to examine whether the highly publicized sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church impacted public opinion. Methods: Using data from a 2010 CBS/. New York Times national poll we investigate how exposure to news coverage detailing the abuse affected levels of public confidence in the Church's ability to protect children. Results: Contrasting with prior research, we uncovered a positive impact of media exposure. Catholics with greater media consumption about the scandal were significantly more confident in the Church's ability to prevent sexual abuse. In addition, indicating a "boomerang" effect of coverage, Catholics who felt the media coverage unfairly targeted the Church held more optimistic views. Supporting the substitution thesis, religiosity mediated these effects among this group. This positive impact was not just limited to Catholics, however. Non-Catholics who perceived the media coverage to be biased felt more positively about the Church's ability to address sex crime in the future. Conclusion: Media consumption of the sexual abuse scandal does not exert a negative influence on public confidence in the Church.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-232
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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