Poll: increasing number of Catholics questioning their faith

Gallup Poll finds that 37 percent of U.S. Catholics say news of sexual abuse of minors by priests has led them to question whether they would remain in the Church

(image from Gallup)

As the Catholic church responds to more allegations of sexual abuse of young people by priests, an increasing percentage of Catholics are re-examining their commitment to the religion. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. Catholics, up from 22% in 2002, say news of the abuse has led them to question whether they would remain in the church.

These results are based on interviews with 581 U.S. Catholics who participated in Gallup polls Jan. 21-27 and Feb. 12-28. While the polling was being conducted, Pope Francis met with Catholic leaders from around the world at the Vatican to respond to a new wave of sex abuse allegations in numerous countries. The church dealt with a similar crisis in the U.S. in 2002, the last time Gallup polled about this. That polling came after The Boston Globe reported on widespread abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area and church leaders’ efforts to prevent the abuse from becoming public knowledge.

Gallup’s latest findings show that the current scandal is affecting U.S. Catholics more than the one in 2002 did, in terms of their feelings about the church. However, 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.

Substantial minorities of both practicing and nonpracticing Catholics say they are questioning their commitment to the church — but, as might be expected, those less committed to their religion are more likely to be questioning it. Whereas 46% of Catholics who seldom or never attend church say they have questioned whether they would remain in the faith, 37% of those who attend church on a monthly basis and 22% who attend weekly say the same.

The same pattern existed in 2002, although both practicing and nonpracticing Catholics are more likely now than in 2002 to be questioning their place in the church. Seventeen years ago, only one in eight weekly churchgoers were re-examining their membership, as were 24% of semi-regular churchgoers and 29% of infrequent ones.

There are no meaningful differences in the proportions of Catholics questioning their church membership by age or gender.

From Gallup.


  1. Deacon Craig Anderson says

    This tragic problem, among others, will not be gone until the Church acknowledges and repents of the problems of homosexual priests and bishops and clearly calls all of us to chastity and holiness.

    • Simon of Simony says

      Deacon Andersen,

      It is more than homosexuality. It is the attitude of arrogance, hubris and entitlement at the highest levels as reported here by the Catholic News Agency:


      • Deacon Craig Anderson says

        Of course it is more than homosexuality. I never asserted otherwise. However, that is one of the root problems. As you wrote “Simon,” those other attitudes are part of the problem as well. And, as I noted, overall, the call to holiness for all of us is necessary.

      • Silent Observer says

        Simon, you hit the target. The esteem that Catholics have had for priests has been fostered and encouraged by the priests themselves. They have participated in their own elevation to the point of self-conceit. San Diego Bishop McElroy said, among other questionable things, that clergy sexual abuse is merely an abuse of power, whereas it is in fact an absolute abuse of power AND a monstrous violation of one’s physical person. He omitted the last part, which shows he is able to cleverly dissemble so as to avoid naming the real problem.

  2. Your Fellow Catholic says

    As I have been saying in this forum for years, career mothers (2/3 of all mothers with young children in the US), will be increasingly unlikely to take their daughters and sons to a place where the role models might abuse them, and where their daughters have few if any carreer opportunity. We should have seen this coming for at least 25 years if not more.

    • Anonymous says

      Have you been to a Catholic parish lately? About 9/10 staff members are female. No career opportunities? You completely misidentify the problems.

      • Your Fellow Catholic says

        Nine out of 10 “staff members” is different than 9 out of 10 career positions. Even assuming you are right that 9 of 10 staffers are female – which I highly doubt – how many of them hold any significant decision making power? An office clerk here, a janitor there, even a Director of Religious Education. Do they get any say in who the pastor is? When it’s time for the deacon to get the boot? What input to give Rome about the next ordinary? What to do about the rumors about Father Scratch-and-sniff? How many women are on your marriage tribunal? How many diocesan chancellors are women? Are women encouraged to obtain MDivs, Licentiates in Sacred Theology, or Canon law degrees?

    • Anonymous says

      YFC– To serve Christ’s holy Church is called a “religious vocation” — not a worldly “career opportunity!” A devout Catholic boy may desire to become a priest, and a devout Catholic girl may desire to become a nun. The rest may decide to volunteer their time, serving in many capacities.

  3. Silent Observer says

    Oh, yes, this is my daily faith struggle. I feel betrayed. I am disillusioned beyond words. I am furious with so many of the church leaders and priests who have let us all down. I am also as sad as can be that my reverence for the clergy has been destroyed. I’m trying to make sense of it and to apply the forgiveness that God applies to me. However, there’s always another bishop making head-scratching statements seemingly contrary to Church doctrine, so that I wonder if these are the Gates of Hell prevailing against us from the inside?

  4. Pretext.

  5. Lou Varini says

    The Church IS NOT made up, of or for, the benefit of any particular member of the prelates, clergy or religious, or any select group of them.

    The Church is a society established by Christ Himself to bring the faithful closer to Him through His teachings and through the Sacraments.

    We are not part of the Church in order to become closer to any single prelate or other member of the clergy. We are Catholic so that we can come into fuller union with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

    People who leave the Church because of the scandalous and insincere behavior of those who are entrusted with carrying on Our Lord’s message are depriving themselves of the Sanctifying Grace of the Sacraments. makes no sense.

    • Silent Observer says

      Lou Varini – no faithful Catholic needs a lecture about how deep our faith goes in Our Lord just because we find ourselves reeling from the betrayal and apostasy of many of our bishops and clergy. My friends and I still attend Mass regularly because we need to be nurtured by the Sacraments. However, I fear the exodus will continue, not just among marginal Catholics but among faithful Catholics too, because of the absolute ineptitude of those consecrated men.

      • Lou Varini says

        True, but the problem is that many Catholics, unfortunately, are not have not been sufficiency cathecized in the faith and associate the Judases who direct the Church with the Church Herself.

      • Silent Observer and Lou Varini, I agree with many of your statements. Years ago, though, I decided that I would “show up” because Jesus does – in the Eucharist. As long as HE is there, I must be. We were warned about false prophets, hypocrites and the “pruning of our vine”. This is a sound lesson in humility and maturation in just exactly in WHO we place our faith. It breaks my heart, too. But I am also grateful for the exposure and justice occurring now.

  6. Rick Shaw says

    Quote from above:

    “Thirty-seven percent of U.S. Catholics, up from 22% in 2002, say news of the abuse has led them to question whether they would remain in the church.”

    The operative phrase “to question whether”; no definite decision was made. Considering whether to leave and actually leave are two different things.

  7. The sin, the corruption, the failed leadership and the horrific crimes against children committed by and covered up by Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals and laypeople is more than one can take. Easter Sunday will be my last at a Catholic parish. I am leaving and no one will notice, follow-up or care. A Protestant church will be my new church home. The Catholic Church is no longer the Church of Christ.

    • Lou Varini says

      The Catholic Church is the One True Church exactly because it was established by Jesus Himself. Don’t confuse the betrayal by and of individuals who abuse the Apostolic and Petrine succession entrusted to them. They are not the Church.

    • Lou Varini says


      Please read my post of Mar. 15, 2019—2:14 p.m. above.

      The Church is the only source of valid Sacraments. The virtue of the minister does not affect the sanctifying grace of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

  8. The problems are the homosexually active priests, clergy, religious, bishops and cardinals. The problems are the many Pastors and priests telling their congregations that the Church is moving on. They are changing the Teachings of Jesus Christ and The WORD. They are in denial and betraying the flock. They invite the James Martins into the Church to lie to the people. Those of us, who were fortunately taught The Truth and the un-watered down version of The Catechism, hold onto the Faith and believe in the WORDs and teachings of Jesus Christ and we will never give up on the Catholic Church. We pray the rosary faithfully, that the Truth be known to all. Mother Mary Pray For Us here.

  9. What percentage of those who consider leaving eventually do leave? Yes, there are a few women Chancellors of Dioceses. But even they face a ‘glass ceiling’. I sometimes speculate what would have happened if the sex abuse scandal never occurred. I think other issues, now considered minor, would be more prominent.

    • Not all women want a career that means they have to ignore their families. Many younger women are finally facing the fact that they were sold a bill of goods that they can “have it all”, Small children need their mothers at home instead of being put in some God forsaken daycare where they have so many mothers, as one teacher told me, it is a wonder they have any brains left.

  10. Elizabeth T. says

    The Church is Jesus, and He NEVER lets us down.

    The people whom are too human are the ones that are the problems.

    Keep your eye on Jesus 🙂

  11. Pope Francis has not made the Faith strong again with ecological leftism. We will have to hold the gap until the next Pope.

  12. Hey 37% folks, man up! Don’t let a few pervey clerics push you from the barque of Peter. To whom will you go?

  13. St. Christopher says

    Well, this is what Satan wants, correct? And, he has received the reward of his tireless efforts: the institutional Catholic Church is just about over as a functioning organization that carries on its one mission: leading Mankind to salvation. You never read much of this anymore, at least not much from the Vatican, the USCCB, and most diocesan bishops. Remember: you will die. And, you will be judged. Christ promised this. What the average Catholic experiences today at Mass, in the sacraments, during catechism and any training given by priests, is something other than was preached by Christ and is contained in the Catechism and Deposit of Faith. Not even active clergy believe much of it anymore.

  14. I no longer trust and look up to our clerics. I simply ignore them– and look up only to Our Lord Jesus and His Blessed Mother!!

  15. Cardinal Sarah says to maintain unity, prayer; cautions to avoid doubt, schism, social work, worldly organization, to judge, change, and relativize the teaching of Jesus, particularly by prelates and theologians, and the temptation to try to create perfection on earth as a substitute for prayer; says that many men inside the church still follow Jesus, but like Judas, no longer believe, are afraid to speak with clarity, and thus speak in ambiguity.The reform begins with each of us.  There will always be enough light in the church for us who seek Jesus. You can read Dominus Est here: http://richardperozich.com/parish-forms/

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