Harriet Sherwood: Religion correspondent, The Guardian
Poll shows confidence in church at record low after report on sexual abuse in Pennsylvania
The proportion of US Catholics who regard priests as honest and ethical has plummeted to a record low of fewer than one in three, according to a survey.
The fall of 18 percentage points between 2017 and 2018 is attributed to the last year’s scandals over clerical sexual abuse.
Fewer than half of the Catholics surveyed by Gallup said they had confidence in organised religion, a drop of eight percentage points over the period.
The poll was conducted four months after the publication of a scathing grand jury report into sexual abuse and its cover-up by Catholic priests and bishops in Pennsylvania.
An investigation found that at least 300 priests had abused about 1,000 children and vulnerable adults over 70 years, and that their superiors had either stood by or in some cases actively covered up criminal acts.
Positive views about the honest and ethical standards of clergy have almost halved in a decade, from 61% to 31%, but the most recent figures show the largest annual fall.
Confidence in the institutions of the church fell to 44% last year compared with 52% in 2017, although the figure was above a low of 39% in 2007.
The crisis in the church has been illustrated by a fall in attendance. In 2018, 36% of Catholics said they had been to church in the past seven days, a small drop from the 39% average between 2014 and 2017, but a dramatic shift since 1975 when 75% reported weekly attendance.
However, the proportion of Catholics among the US population has remained relatively stable. Overall, 22% of Americans identified as Catholic in 2018, compared with an average of 25% over the past 70 years. More than half – 52% – said religion was very important in their lives.