Americans Trust Clergy Less Than Ever, Gallup Poll Finds
Americans’ confidence in religious leaders’ honesty and ethical standards has been tanking in recent years, the recent report shows.
The level of trust Americans have in clergy members has dropped to a record low, a recent Gallup survey suggests.
The polling organization has been asking Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of various professions for 42 years and asked the question about the clergy’s honesty 34 times over that time period.
Based on the survey results, only 37% of 1,025 respondents had a “very high” or “high” opinion of the honesty and ethical standards of clergy.
43% rated clergy’s honesty and ethics as “average,” while 15% had low or very low opinions.
Currently, only 31% of Catholics and 48% of Protestants rate the clergy positively, according to Gallup.
Thus, the positive rating stands at 37%, which is the lowest rate Gallup has recorded for clergy since it began examining views about religious leaders’ ethical standards in 1977.
Trust in clergy hit a historical high of 67% in 1985. A sharp drop occurred in 2002, the year the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team first started reporting on the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis. Positive views about clergy have been steadily declining since 2012, Gallup stated.
One of the reasons for such a decline in trust in the clergy may be the prominence of the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis this year, John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, believes.
In July, Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, resigned from the church’s College of Cardinals amid allegations that he had sexually abused children and adult seminarians over decades. In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury identified 301 predator priests and more than 1,000 victims in a landmark report on sexual abuse in the state.
“Men and women turn toward clergy in some of the most intimate moments of their lives,” Fea said. “The kinds of scandals and authoritarian leadership that we saw this year among the clergy undermines the trust we place in them.”
The professor also added that American religion has always existed in a “consumer society,” where individuals “shop” for the churches that best meet their needs.
“With internet churches and other kinds of online social media offering spiritual advice and counsel, coupled with the sex abuse scandals, the clergy does not seem to be as important any more as people seem to place their trust in other places.”
According to Stephen Prothero, a professor of American religions at Boston University, there’s another factor at play. He believes the increasing entanglement of Evangelical Protestants and key Evangelical leaders with the Republican Party has led many to view Christianity as a right-wing political movement “more concerned with getting people like President Trump elected than with saving souls.”
“The overwhelming majority of American clergy are neither sexual predators nor right-wing political hacks,” Prothero said. “But this is one of those cases of a lot of bad apples spoiling the whole bunch.”
Americans view clergy as less honest than police officers, accountants, and funeral directors, Gallup’s December report states, but more trustworthy than bankers, lawyers, business executives, and telemarketers.