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Faith in Clergy’s Honesty Drops among US Catholics over Sex Abuse

Fewer than a third of U.S. Catholics rate the honesty and ethical standards of clergy as “very high” or “high,” the latest evidence of the hierarchy’s diminished credibility as a result of the clergy sex abuse scandal, according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

A record-low 31 percent of US Catholics rate the honesty and ethical standards of the clergy as “very high” or “high,” a Gallup poll released on Friday found.

The honesty rating marks an 18-percentage-point drop between 2017 and 2018, when more sexual abuse allegations against priests and high-ranking cover-ups were exposed.

Gallup has measured the public’s views about the Catholic Church’s ethical standards since 1977 as part of its broader “honesty and ethics of professions” poll.

Ratings of the clergy have been declining steadily in the US since 2012, Gallup said.

The latest drop in Catholics’ positive views of clergy, from 49 percent to 31 percent, is the second double-digit drop since 2004.

Protestants’ confidence in their church declined like Catholics’, dropping from 54 percent in 2017 to 48 percent in 2018.

Regular church attendance has also been on a steady decline and hit a new low last year, with 36 percent of Catholics reporting they had attended Mass in the past week. That was down from an average of 45 percent in 2008 and from 75 percent in 1955.

Since the first high-profile abuse allegations against Catholic priests emerged in 2002 in Boston, many similar cases have rocked the Church, and 2018 brought another wave of such charges.

The credibility of the Catholic Church hierarchy sank last year after new reports of old sexual abuse and cover-up were uncovered in the US, Chile and elsewhere and implicated Pope Francis himself.

Mathew Schmalz, an expert on the Church and religious studies professor at the College of The Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, says the Church may never regain its lost credibility.

“Certainly, the bishops will face further pressure to follow through on transparency and reporting requirements,” Schmalz recently told AFP. “But their credibility has been so weakened that they are also facing the possibility that any effort they make will have little to no credibility.”

The Gallup poll comes following the recent release of a probe by the attorney general of Pennsylvania that found over 300 Catholic priests in that state had sexually abused at least 1,000 children over a 70-year period, crimes that were systematically covered up by bishops.

On Friday, a former Catholic priest who had admitted to sexually abusing boys in Pennsylvania was sentenced to up to 14 years in prison – the second clergyman to be jailed in the wake of the damning statewide grand jury report.

David Poulson, 65 – who served as a priest for four decades in the Diocese of Erie – had entered a guilty plea in October after being accused of sexual assault and attempted sexual assault of two boys, aged eight and 15, in the 2000s.

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