Many Catholics Consider Leaving

Religion News Service (RNS): “Survey: More than a third of US Catholics question loyalty in wake of scandals.” This is their report on a recent Gallup poll. I think Gallup’s report (here) is better. The headline number, 37%, is quite high. But you need to keep it in context.

First, Catholics who attend church weekly are much less likely to consider leaving than those who rarely attend. I don’t think the pews will empty out in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, Gallup also provided comparable data from 2002, following the Spotlight abuse scandal in Boston. Far more Catholics are considering leaving today than in 2002. But it’s not clear what this means.

There may well be a cumulative effect of all this bad news. If your guide to God and salvation has a habit of raping kids and lying about it, that is good grounds for questioning their qualifications. On the other hand, it is likely that in 2002, many Catholics were not following the news from Boston, and were therefore not terribly upset about it. Media coverage of the abuse problem has greatly expanded, consistent with increasing legal prosecutions, especially on the state level.

Keep in mind that droves of traditional Catholics in America have left the Catholic Church. I suspect this trend will continue. For over thirty years, there has been a massive influx of Hispanic Catholics. This will not continue. Immigration is much lower. Furthermore, second and third generation Latinos are more likely to switch to a Protestant church that caters to Hispanics.

The survey results should not be taken at face value. There are the usual problems, like everyone thinking their own priest is good – it’s all the others who are abusing kids. Pope Francis is still surprisingly popular – almost as popular as respondents’ local priests. His popularity is declining, and I suspect this will also continue.

All in all, if I had to make a prediction, it would be for business as usual. The Catholic Church in America is a declining business, with greater downside than upside. But it is still large and immensely wealthy, and will continue to be influential- probably more than is warranted.


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