ROME — 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.
The record-low 31 percent honesty rating marked an 18-percentage-point drop from 2017, a large fall after years of steady decline that followed a new global explosion of the scandal and revelations of high-ranking cover-up.
Catholics aren’t alone in the crisis, however. The Gallup survey also found that while the Protestants’ 48 percent positive rating for clergy is higher than Catholics’, 2018 marked the first time that fewer than half of surveyed Protestants had high marks for clerical honesty.
The poll of 1,025 adults was conducted Dec. 3-12 and had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. For results based on the total sample of 210 Catholics, the margin was plus or minus eight percentage points.
The credibility of the Catholic Church hierarchy tanked in 2018 after new reports of old abuse and cover-up were uncovered in the U.S., Chile and elsewhere and implicated Pope Francis himself. In the U.S., the Pennsylvania grand jury report alleged seven decades of abuse and cover-up, while ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s downfall exposed how the hierarchy knew that he slept with seminarians, but turned a blind eye.
A previous Gallup poll found that Catholics’ overall confidence in the Church and organized religion — already declining last year — dropped from 52 percent in June 2017 to 44 percent by June 2018, before the U.S. scandal had even hit.
Mass 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.
Nevertheless, Gallup found that a majority of Catholics still view religion as “very important” in their lives. And the survey noted that the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Catholic has remained stable, thanks in large part to the growing Hispanic population in the U.S.