US Catholics say next pope should modernize church

US Catholics want the next pope to modernize the church on issues like birth control and the ordination of women, and believe the current leadership is "out of touch," a poll published Wednesday found.

A majority of the respondents said clergy sexual abuse scandals had led them to question the Vatican's authority and seven out of ten said Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican had done a poor job of handling it, up from 55 percent in 2010.

Nearly half of the respondents rated "the way things are going" with the church in the United States as "not so good" or "poor." Only 17 percent said things are getting better despite a decade of reforms and a steep decline in new reports of clergy sex abuse.

Around half of respondents said the Catholic Church and US bishops were "out of touch" with their needs, and 72 percent said their parish priests were in touch with their needs.

Less than a third of respondents expressed "a great deal" of confidence that bishops currently meeting in Rome will "select a pope that is in touch with the needs of Catholics today."

When asked which "one thing" they would "most like to see the next pope accomplish," the most common answers were: bring people back to church, modernize the church, unify the church, and do something about sexual abuse.

More than half of respondents said they want the next pope to introduce "more liberal teachings" than Benedict, while 18 percent said they wanted a "more conservative" theology.

Seven out of ten respondents wanted the church to ordain women and allow priests to marry. The same number said the next pope should support the use of artificial methods of birth control.

An overwhelming 91 percent said the next pope should support the use of condoms to help stem the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

A third of respondents also wanted the next pope to support abortion while 56 percent believed the pope should continue the church's opposition. The same number wanted the pope to support or oppose the death penalty.

The poll also found the papacy's supremacy has waned.

Only 40 percent of respondents said they believe the pope is infallible when he teaches on matters of morality and faith, and eight in 10 said they'd follow their own conscience over the pope's teachings on difficult moral questions.

Respondents had mixed feelings about Benedict, who was the first pontiff to resign in more than 700 years, after eight years as head of the church.

Just a quarter of respondents said his leadership had helped the church and half said it was a "mixed blessing."

Some 75 percent of respondents agreed with his decision to resign. Half of respondents said they had not yet formed an opinion of Benedict while 40 percent expressed a "favorable" opinion and nine percent were "unfavorable."

The survey, which was conducted on behalf of the New York Times and CBS news, was conducted from February 23 to 27, when Catholics were still absorbing news of Benedict's resignation.

It had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.