A new Gallup poll finds that more than a third of Catholics (37%) now question whether or not they should remain in the Catholic Church — a number that’s much higher than the 22% who said the same thing in 2002, shortly after the child sex abuse scandal was first exposed by the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team.
Still, only a third? What the hell is wrong with the rest of them? The vast majority of Catholics apparently see child rape story after child rape story and think, “Yeah, I’m sticking with this team.”
There’s a possible explanation for that, though. While 41% of U.S. Catholics said they had total confidence in the priests at their own church, only 19% had a great deal of confidence in U.S. bishops and Catholic leaders in other countries. Much like Congress, they’re fine with their representatives; it’s everyone else who’s the problem.
As Gallup notes, however, when you survey Catholics who attend services regularly, the numbers skew in favor of the Church.
But it’s not like the abuse scandal is going away. How many of the questioning Catholics, then, will actually make the leap and stop supporting their local churches? That’s the true test of how seriously they take the abuse. By remaining in the Church when diocese after diocese is finally coming clean about how many predators have worked for them over the decades, they’re allowing the Church to pretend it’s on the right side of the issue rather than trying to put a positive spin after years of being on the wrong side of it.
Mix that with relatively low support for Pope Francis and the general demographic shifts away from organized religion, and things are not looking good for the Church. (Hallelujah.)
U.S. Catholics are still mostly confident in Pope Francis, but it could be argued that the 58% expressing confidence in him is somewhat weak given his role as leader of the Catholic church.
While it is uncertain how many of the 37% of U.S. Catholics who say they’re questioning remaining in the church will actually leave in response to the latest sex abuse scandal, any loss of adherents is certainly not welcome news — especially when the church is dealing with larger societal trends moving away from formal religion.
It’s possible the Church is only seeing the beginning of the freefall. Let’s hope.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)