F Rosa Rubicondior: Catholic Abuse News - Trust in the Clergy Hits a New Low

Thursday 17 January 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Trust in the Clergy Hits a New Low

U.S. Catholics' Faith in Clergy Is Shaken

A recent Gallop poll has uncovered a huge decline in the perceived ethical standards of clergy in the USA, especially amongst Catholics.

In a survey conducted at the end of 2018, after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report which found that over 300 priests had abused over 1000 children in 70 years in Pennsylvania alone, only 31% of Catholics believe the ethical standards of clergy (of all denominations) is high or very high. This compares with 49% just a year earlier. In 2008, it was more than double, at 68%.

Amongst Protestants, respect continues to decline, though less sharply, now standing at 48%; down from 61% in 2008 and 66% in 2004.

Over the same period, the Gallop survey into confidence in a list of US institutions shows that confidence in the church/organized religions has also declined, from being the top-rated institution between 1973 and 1985 now has the confidence of just 38% of all adults.

Perhaps the surprising thing with this confidence survey is that, while confidence in the church has declined by ten percentage points since 2004 amongst Protestants, it has remained remarkably stable at around 45-50% amongst Catholics. However, amongst Catholics, even this normally stable figure fell from a near high of 52% to 44% between 2017 and 2018.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, this decline in trust and confidence is reflected in a continuing decline in church attendance amongst Catholics, who now attend church less regularly than Protestants. Between 2014 and 2017, 39% of Catholics reported attending church in the previous week. This figure was down from an average of 45% between 2005 and 2008 and from 75% in 1955. In 2018 it fell to 36%. No age group now has more than 50% weekly church attendance.

This is in line with a broad long-term trend away from self-identification with organised religion in the USA, with 20% of Americans now reporting 'none', compared with just 2% 'none' in 1958.

Within this figure, however, are a few crumbs of comfort for American Catholic Church leaders. Those identifying as Catholic has remained between the historic 20-30% range at 22%.

Perhaps disturbingly for those evangelical Christians who may also be seeking some comfort in this figure, the reason for its apparent trend-bucking is almost certainly due to the 'problem' that is currently exercising President Trump's mind most - Hispanic immigration. The logic of their political policy is to opposes the very thing that is doing most to halt the decline in support for Christian churches in the USA. Amongst evangelical Protestants, racism and racist policies are more important than the Christian values they purport to adhere to.

Despite the turmoil over sexual abuse scandals and particularly the role of senior figures in the ensuing cover-ups, the perceived importance of religion in the lives of Catholics has been remarkably stable throughout the 21st Century at between 40-60% and is now close to the average at 52%.

That this remains so despite the collapse in trust for the clergy and confidence in the institution suggests Catholics are able to separate their own faith from the institution. It also suggests that 'Catholic' is an important social identifier and that self-identification as 'Catholic' is more than a statement of religious belief.

This is to be expected when a large and increasing proportion of Catholics are also members of a racial and socio-economic underclass, subject to considerable hostility and prejudice from the largely non-Catholic majority. In previous generations, Catholics were predominantly of white European, Irish, Italian and Polish origin. Now they are increasingly Hispanic. In the USA, religion is an integral part of the Balkanisation of society into mutually hostile groups, each identifying with particular flavours of Christianity.

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