From The Washington Post:
The percent of U.S. Catholics who say the clergy sex abuse crisis has them questioning whether to leave the faith has jumped 15 points since the last major crisis in the early 2000s, a poll released Wednesday finds.
Thirty-seven percent of Catholics told Gallup that “recent news about sexual abuse of young people by priests” has them personally questioning whether to remain Catholic, compared with 62 percent who said it had not. Priest misconduct and its handling by clergy all the way to the papacy has exploded as a topic in the U.S. church since last summer, when a series of scandals began to rock the denomination, America’s largest. It’s the broadest such scandal in American Catholicism since the early 2000s, when 22 percent of U.S. Catholics told Gallup that clergy sex abuse news was pushing them to question staying, and 76 percent said it was not.
Experts on Catholic polling say considering leaving isn’t the same as leaving. Also, the current crisis is unfolding at a time when religious identity is deconstructing and fluid for many tens of millions of Americans, so Catholics leaving the option open can’t be wholly credited to anger over clergy abuse and its handling. But Gallup’s finding is a striking data point, pollsters say.
“As an indication of frustration, it seems like a pretty significant step,” said Jeff Jones, Gallup Poll senior editor. “Leaving is another one, and we don’t have good data on that. But it does give a sense of the impact [the scandal] is having. And that the impact is greater than it was in 2002.”
Gallup’s latest findings show that the current scandal is affecting U.S. Catholics more than the one in 2002 did, in terms of their feelings about the church. However, it is unclear whether Catholics who are questioning their church membership will actually decide to leave the church. Many Catholics may consider leaving the church but ultimately decide not to do so, or they may have no intention of leaving but simply be responding to this question as a way to express their frustration with the way the church has handled the problem.
Substantial minorities of both practicing and nonpracticing Catholics say they are questioning their commitment to the church — but, as might be expected, those less committed to their religion are more likely to be questioning it. Whereas 46% of Catholics who seldom or never attend church say they have questioned whether they would remain in the faith, 37% of those who attend church on a monthly basis and 22% who attend weekly say the same.
The same pattern existed in 2002, although both practicing and nonpracticing Catholics are more likely now than in 2002 to be questioning their place in the church. Seventeen years ago, only one in eight weekly churchgoers were re-examining their membership, as were 24% of semi-regular churchgoers and 29% of infrequent ones.
But there is also this:
Amid the latest scandal, a majority of Catholics say they have either a great deal (40%) or quite a lot of confidence (18%) in Pope Francis. Similar percentages are confident in the priests at their church (41% a great deal, 18% quite a lot). Catholics are less confident in priests in the U.S. more generally, and in U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders. About one in four U.S. Catholics say they have very little or no confidence in those two groups. One in eight have little or no confidence in Pope Francis or their own priests.
Read the full results here.