Should Catholics keep their faith? Sex abuse scandals prompt more to personally question ties to church, poll finds

Doug Stanglin

Amid the latest spate of allegations of sexual abuse of young people by priests, an increasing percentage of Catholics are re-examining their commitment to the religion, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Gallup poll found that 37 percent of respondents said "recent news about sexual abuse of young people by priests" has them personally questioning whether to remain Catholic — a 15 point increase since 2002.

The polling, conduct in January and February, came as Pope Francis met at the Vatican with Catholic leaders from around the world to respond to a new wave of sex abuse allegations in numerous countries.

It was the first time Gallup has polled on the issue since 2002 when the church was confronted with reports from Boston of widespread abuse by Catholic priests and efforts by the church leaders to cover it up.

Survivors of church abuse hold placards outside at the County Court to hear the sentencing of Cardinal George Pell who was was found guilty on historic child sex crimes, in Melbourne on March 13, 2019.

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In the most recent cases, Cardinal George Pell, who was the Vatican's chief financial adviser,  was sentenced to six years in prison in Australia Wednesday for molesting boys more than 20 years ago. Pell is the most senior cleric in the Roman Catholic Church to receive jail time for sexual abuse of a child. 

In February, Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, was expelled from the priesthood for abusing children and adult seminarians.

While Gallup said the current scandal is having a bigger impact among Catholics than in 2002, "it is unclear whether Catholics who are questioning their church membership will actually decide to leave the church."

"Many Catholics may consider leaving the church but ultimately decide not to do so, or they may have no intention of leaving but simply be responding to this question as a way to express their frustration with the way the church has handled the problem," Gallup Senior Editor Jeffrey Jones said in his overview of the poll results.

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The poll also found that a majority of Catholics say they have either a great deal (40 percent) or quite a lot of confidence (18 percent) in Pope Francis. Similar percentages expressed confidence in the priests at their church (41 percent a great deal, 18 percent quite a lot).

Catholics showed less confidence in priests in the United States more generally, and in U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders. About one in four U.S. Catholics say they have very little or no confidence in those two groups. One in eight have little or no confidence in Pope Francis or their own priests, the poll found.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Should Catholics keep their faith? Sex abuse scandals prompt more to personally question ties to church, poll finds