Americans Trust Clergy Less Than Ever

Photo Credit: Thom S. Rainer

A recent Gallup survey tried to answer the question “How you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in different fields,” and the level of trust Americans have in clergy members has dropped to a record low. Gallup has been asking Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of various professions for 42 years.

While journalists have experienced a surge in positive ratings, the opposite is true for the clergy. Gallup has measured Americans' views of the clergy's honesty and ethics 34 times beginning in 1977, and this year's 37% very high/high rating is the lowest to date. Although the overall average positive rating is 54%, it has consistently fallen below that level since 2009. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985.

Positive views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy dropped in 2002 amid a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, and although positive ratings rebounded somewhat in the next few years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been steadily declining since 2012.

The effects of scandals from 2002 were apparent in Gallup's annual update on the public's ratings for honesty and ethics of professions. While ratings of business professionals had never been high, it was clear that the scandals may well have taken a toll. Ratings of the clergy's honesty and ethics were at their lowest point ever.

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These latest low ratings of the clergy come on the heels of more investigations into child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the United States. Currently, 31% of Catholics and 48% of Protestants rate the clergy positively. On the other side, forty-three percent of 1,025 respondents rated clergy’s honesty and ethics as “average,” while 15 percent had low or very low opinions.

Americans viewed 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.

“Men and women turn toward clergy in some of the most intimate moments of their lives,” John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, told HuffPost in an email. “The kinds of scandals and authoritarian leadership that we saw this year among the clergy undermines the trust we place in them.”

Why would people would have confidence in clergy when their reputation was badly shaken several times amid sexual abuse scandals, hiding and protecting the perpetrators and all the immorality of the people who should have the highest evidence of moral character?

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