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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