By Frank Wessling
The Gallup Poll reports that Catholics continue to have less confidence in the Church – and organized religion generally – than Protestants. When a representative sample of Americans were asked in June, 56 percent of Protestants said they have “a great deal” of confidence in the Church or “quite a lot.” Among Catholics only 46 percent responded as positively.
This is a trend Gallup has found consistently, beginning in the late 1970s. In 2002 only 41 percent of Catholics expressed firm confidence in the Church compared with 58 percent of Protestants. That was the year of continuing news out of Boston about sexual abuse of children by priests and apparent toleration of it by bishops there, including Cardinal Bernard Law.
But something other than clergy sexual abuse must underlie the long term difference in confidence between Catholics and Protestants. Is it a sense of ownership? With our strong hierarchical sense of what the Church is, Catholics tend to think of it as owned by the clergy. They are the responsible ones. Protestants in general can feel a more direct ownership of the institution.
When the clergy fail, we tend to think the Church fails. Maybe that should be the first issue considered by the Third Vatican Council.