01: Confidence in organized religion has been driven down to its lowest level in six decades, according to the most recent Gallup Poll.
The confidence index on established religion has declined from 60 percent of Americans holing high confidence in 2001 to only 45 percent in 2002. Pollster George Gallup finds that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, which unfolded largely in 2002, may be largely responsible for the overall drop. In measuring the ethical standards of clergy, only 52 percent of Americans gave clergy a very high or high ranking in 2002, compared with 64 percent who did so in 2001.
Gallup states that Protestants have not been much affected by the scandals in the polls; 59 percent said they had confidence in organized religion, while only 42 percent of Catholics said they did Because the confidence index before this year did not provide break downs of Catholic and Protestant responses, introducing the factor of the abuse crisis is speculative. But other researchers are currently undertaking polls to measure the satisfaction of Catholics with their church [RW cited a survey last month, showing that American Catholics are more satisfied with their parishes than their Australian counterparts; we neglected to mention that the survey was conducted before the scandals had hit the church.]
02: There has been a significant drop in U.S. Catholic school enrollment during the past year, reports the New York Times (Jan. 22).
The newspaper interviewed officials in 11 of the nation’s largest Catholic school systems who reported significant declines in the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade parochial school enrollments for the 2002-2003 school year. The declines raged from seven percent in Detroit to about 1.5 percent in New York. For more than a decade, Catholic school enrollments have increased throughout the country.
In the Archdiocese of Boston, where the sex abuse scandal was the most publicized, there was a six percent decline. Yet Catholic education officials attributed the declines more to rising tuition costs, migration of families to the suburbs and competition from charter schools. The article adds that anecdotal evidence supports these explanations. Enrollments at some schools directly impacted by these scandals have shown growth. Interviews with parents also suggest that even with the crisis, they plan to keep their children in Catholic schools because they trust the teachers.
03: Although there has been a significant increase in Americans claiming no religion during the past 10 years, the percentage of the truly “secular” may be much smaller than this population.
In the polling journal Public Perspective (January/February), researchers Ariela Keyser, Barry Kosmin, and Egon Mayer report on their recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), which finds a total of 29.5 million Americans either claiming no religion or describing themselves as atheist and agnostics — a figure that has more than doubled since the last ARIS survey in 1990, comprising 14.1 percent of the population. That 14 percent figure has in the last year been held up by secular humanists and atheists as representing a rising secular constituency in the U.S. [See November RW].
But the researchers stress that the “large and growing number of American adults who adhere to no religion, or describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or secular, is quite diverse.” Some are genuinely secular, being both unaffiliated and describing their outlook as secular, as well as not agreeing with the statement that “God exists,” but they represent only about one-fifth of the “no religion” respondents.
“A much larger proportion of the `nones’ are far from die-hard atheists or even agnostics.” Only 21 percent of the respondents who professed no religion disagreed with the statement that God exists and only 12 percent of them disagreed strongly.
(Public Perspective, Roper Center, 341 Mansfield Rd., Unit 1164, Storrs, CT 06269-1164)
04: Both Catholic and Protestant Hispanics continue to trail other ethnic and immigrant groups in training clergy, reports the Washington Times (Jan. 24).
The lack of priests and prospective priests among Hispanics has long been a problem in American Catholicism. While Hispanics make up about one-third of the nation’s 65 million Catholics, they represent just 3.6 percent of U.S. Catholic clergy. Evangelical and Pentecostal Hispanics may be better able to recruit potential clergy, but they still have problems with having the resources to train candidates and with “integrating them into the religious mainstream,” writes Larry Witham.
Hispanic seminarians and clergy are “dramatically underrepresented” in accredited theological schools,” says Rev. Edwin Hernandez, a Protestant sociologist at the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. There are four times more black students and twice as many Asians as Hispanic students at the 244 member seminaries of the Association of Theological Schools. Recent census data shows that there is about one Hispanic cleric for every 3,000 residents.
But the tide may be turning, especially for Catholics. Hispanics make up 60 percent of the 9,400 lay Catholics studying for certificates in theology and parish ministry. Neo-catechumenal groups, part of a Catholic spiritual renewal movement, are having some success interesting Hispanic high school students in college seminary study.