Trust in Clergy Members Has Dropped Dramatically According to a Survey on Honesty and Ethics

Sex abuse is not the sole reason for the fall.

A 2018 Gallup survey shows Americans' trust in clergy members has dropped to its lowest in statistical history. The poll specialist discovered a meager 37 percent among a total of 1,025 respondents had a “high” or “very high” opinion of clergy members’ ethical and honesty standards. In its latest published report, about 43 percent rated clergy members as “average” when it came to ethics and honesty. Approximately 15 percent have extremely negative opinions. The Gallup company began analyzing the ethical standards of religious people in 1977.

The 2018 religious picture, as per Gallup’s findings, is dismal, with 48 percent of surveyed Protestants and 31 percent of surveyed Catholics holding positive views concerning their respective clergies.

Ratings have consistently fallen since 2009. This is a far cry from 1985 when clergy members reached a trusted high of 67 percent. Positive views concerning ethics and honesty of church members took a sharp dip in 2002 after a sex scandal rocked the Vatican. Although the trust factor bounced back up during the succeeding years, the trust factor went down to 50 percent in 2009. It has been continuously declining since 2012.

For the Catholic Church, 2018 has been a particularly traumatic period. In July, Washington’s former Archbishop, Theodore E. McCarrick, resigned from the College of Cardinals on allegations of sexual abuse of children and a number of adult seminarians over multiple decades. A grand jury in Pennsylvania subsequently identified 301 predator priests and over 1,000 victims as part of a landmark report into the number of sexual abuse reported cases in the state. This report has inspired a number of other attorney generals scattered over the United States to begin similar investigations into hiding sexual abuse cases in dioceses administered by the Roman Catholic church.

According to Stephen Prothero of Boston University, the drop of trust is not only due to the sex abuse crisis. Other factors matter too. The Professor of American religions wrote that the rising entanglement of important evangelical leaders and Protestants with the GOP has led many ordinary Americans to view the Christian religion as a right-wing political movement allied with President Donald Trump and not concerned with saving souls. He pointed out an overwhelming majority of United States clergy do not hold right-wing political views and are not sexual predators. He says it is a classic case of a few bad apples making the whole bunch inedible.

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