Trust in the clergy has declined sharply over the last year, a new Gallup poll shows. Only 31 percent of American Catholics now rate the honesty or ethical standards of the clergy as “high” or “very high.”
The figures, released Friday, show a drop of 18 points since 2017. Among American Protestants, the same question produced a relatively stable number of 48 percent, a drop of only one point since 2017.
The survey was conducted between December 3-12 and surveyed 1,025 adults.
Americans previously registered a drop in confidence with the Church itself. A similar poll, conducted last summer, reported that confidence in the Church dropped from 52 percent in June 2017 to 44 percent in June 2018.
Since that poll was taken, the Church in the United States has suffered a number of abuse-related scandals, including the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the college of cardinals following multiple allegations of sexual abuse, and the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report that reported allegations of widespread clerical sexual abuse in that state over a period of several decades.
Church leaders have faced a mounting series of questions in recent months, with many being asked to make clear when they first became of aware of allegations against bishops like McCarrick.
Ahead of a recent week-long retreat held at Mundelein Seminary, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the American bishops, in which he referred to the loss of credibility among the hierarchy as a “crisis” facing the Church.
“Clearly a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it,” said Pope Francis in the letter. He also noted perceived divisions among the American bishops, and said that a unified body would help to re-establish credibility among Catholics.
Catholic confidence in clergy has wavered over the last decade and a half.
In 2008, 63 percent of American Catholics said that they had a “high” or “very high” view of the ethical standards of the clergy. This number dropped nine points, to 54 percent, by 2011.
Following the election of Pope Francis in 2014, the number rose to 57 – the last year in which topped 50 percent.
Other Gallup polls have offered different indicators about the state of the Church in the United States. The number of Americans who identify as Catholic has remained roughly stable at around 25 percent throughout the last seven decades. Conversely, the number of self-identified Protestants has dropped, and the number of people with no religious affiliation, self-identified “nones,” has risen.
Additionally, over half of Catholics surveyed in 2018 say that religion is a “very important” part of their lives. This figure, too, has remained relatively stable since 2001.
One area that has not remained stable is Mass attendance. From 2014-2017, not a single age group of Catholics reported a majority attending Mass each week. In 2018, only about 36 percent of Catholics said they had been to Mass within the last week. That number is a drop from 45 percent in 2008, and 75 percent in 1955.