Pollster Links Plunge in Confidence in Religion to Catholic Scandal

Article excerpt

Pollster George H. Gallup Jr. said a 30-point plunge last year in American religious attitudes and practices plainly reflected "the 2002 Catholic sexual abuse scandals and the decline in positive attitudes of Catholics toward their church and clergy."

The 641 points on the 2002 Gallup Index of Leading Religious Indicators marked the lowest level in the 51-year history of the annual index, based on eight measures of Americans' religious views and practices. The 30-point drop in one year was also a record.

In a Jan. 7 column Gallup said, "The two specific items driving the index's drop clearly speak to the impact of the sex abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic church. In 2002, 52 percent of Americans gave very high or high ratings to ethical standards of clergy versus the 64 percent who did so in 2001. Americans' confidence in organized religion declined significantly as well; 45 percent of Americans had `a great deal' or `quite a lot' of confidence in organized religion in 2002, versus 60 percent in 2001."

He said the significance of the scandal could be seen in the wide gap in feelings of confidence in organized religion between Catholics, only 42 percent, and Protestants, 59 percent.

Earlier, in a Dec. 18 report, the Gallup Organization said that the percentage of Catholics who say they attend church at least once a week had declined dramatically over the past 12 months while the Protestant numbers remained steady. That report also noted a significant decline in the percentage of Catholics who described religion as "very important" in their lives during that period, while the Protestant numbers rose slightly.

The December report said the fact that the Catholic declines on those measures occurred without corresponding Protestant declines during a year of extraordinary attention to the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis did not prove a cause-effect relationship, but it suggested strongly that the crisis was a major factor. …