The Surprising Consequences of the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

It’s no surprise to think that the Catholic sex abuse scandal has resulted in people leaving the church, but where did they go? When one is disappointed in a religious institutions, does one give up religion altogether or find a substitute? Daniel Hungerman, an economist at Notre Dame, has looked at this issue and he came out with a paper entitled: “Substitution and Stigma: Evidence on Religious Competition from the Catholic Sex-Abuse Scandal.” Here is its abstract:

This paper considers substituting one charitable activity for another in the context of religious practice. I examine the impact of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal on both Catholic and non-Catholic religiosity. I find that the scandal led to a 2-million-member fall in the Catholic population that was compensated by an increase in non-Catholic participation and by an increase in non-affiliation. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest the scandal generated over 3 billion dollars in donations to non-Catholic faiths. Those substituting out of Catholicism frequently chose highly dissimilar alternatives; for example, Baptist churches gained significantly from the scandal while the Episcopal Church did not. These results challenge several theories of religious participation and suggest that regulatory policies or other shocks specific to one religious group could have important spillover effects on other religious groups.

What I find interesting is that people would leave the Catholic faith for a Baptist church but not the Episcopal Church. The liturgical form of worship is much more similar at the Episcopal Church, but perhaps the moral beliefs and congregational life are more similar at Baptist churches.

Thanks to David Weakliem for the link.

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  • This is super interesting. I would have guess presumably the same as you – that people would affiliate with a similar institution if they become disaffected (Catholics would become Episcopalians or Eastern Orthodox). I wonder what is going on in their heads.

    • I wondered the same thing…. how are baptists closer to Catholics than are Episcopalians? Need some ethnographic work here….

    • Matt

      Let me respond by saying that I left the Greek Orthodox Church and have never been happier!!! In my case, I was unhappy and needed answers that Priests couldn’t answer in a truthful manner. I believe priests sincerely care for their parishioners but they are falsely teaching their flock. When approaching a priest about my salvation, I was told that I had to DO!!! certain things to find salvation! What? If I have 3 min. to live, are you saying that in order to be saved I must do sacraments and the like? Let me say there is nothing I can do do be saved!!! It is a gift from God, not from works, so that I don’t boast! The Catholic church and Orthodox churches are nothing but Idolators! They don’t realize it but they are! Some of it is demonic. Most of it is mysticism. Having a relationship with the Christ merely a footnote for Catholics and (orthodox Christians). It is not Biblical at all. In fact, it reminds me of what the Pharisees did. Christ, rebuked them because they had to DO things to have favor with God. The Catholic Church is not what Christ wanted at all. Having a Pope that is infallable…really? The Bible says, there is no one with sin-no one! Only God is perfect! and his son was sinless! To answer your question about why would Catholics leave one church and make a drastic theological change and not attend a similar denomination? Well, let me answer. approx. 1/3 of the Christians attending my Church (about 1000), who left the Catholic church, say they left because of the abuse of the Catholic Hierarchy, the lies and cover-ups by clergy, and false teaching they were given when Catholic. They feel liberated from the demonic hold that the Catholic church has on its parishioners. I can go on and on….but I feel sorry for those who are still believing the lies of the Catholic church and orthodox church. Only God can elect to change a person. In my case, God grabbed a hold of me and pulled my out of my dead church. I didn’t know that I was walking in darkness until my eyes were opened. I actually read the Bible and it made sense to me and understand who God is and what he wants from His people. He doesn’t want you to worship idols! ie….priests, church building, golden statues, the saints.) God told us not to even make an idol of Him because that is idolatry…..get it? God only wants you to worship Him not the Saints! He wants you to pray and talk to Him, not a Saint. Saints are Christians here on earth who are saved, real people. They are the ones that intervene and pray for us. I can go on and on…Catholicism is a lie!

  • j smith

    Catholic & Baptist moral worldviews on politically salient issues (especially abortion and gay marriage) are more similar.

    Supply also plays a role no doubt. EO and EC congregations are scarce. You’d think an economist would be all over this point. The Baptists are everywhere (even if they don’t have it in their churches names).

    • I think that you’re right about the political and moral issues…

  • Having been a Catholic who switched to a Baptist church, I can say that the authority/leadership structure may also play a factor. I wasn’t burned by the priests, but I did feel like they have way too much power and control. The less rigid structure of a pastor and board of elders felt much more comfortable for me since he wasn’t so revered and didn’t have a hierarchy bolstering his authority. I’m not saying that this is a better form of authority–there are plenty of opportunities for abuse here as well. I’m just saying that a switch in church authority could have made Baptists look way better than the Episcopals.

    • How interesting… I hadn’t even thought of that, but moving to a less-authority model makes sense. Thanks, Ed!