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More US Catholics consider leaving religion over sex abuse: Poll

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US spokesperson for Ending Clergy Abuse, Peter Isely addresses the media outside the entrance of the Paul-VI residence on February 20, 2019 in the Vatican. (AFP photo)

An increasing percentage of Catholics in the United States are re-examining their commitment to the religion as more allegations of sexual abuse by priests are being revealed, according to a new poll.

Some 37 percent of US Catholics say news of the sex abuse of young people by priests has led them to question whether they would remain in the church, a Gallup poll released Wednesday finds.

Gallup said the figure was 22 percent in 2002, when the church was dealing with a similar crisis in the US.

The last time Gallup polled about this was 2002 after The Boston Globe newspaper 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 US Catholics more than the one in 2002 did.

A significant number of both practicing and nonpracticing Catholics say they are considering leaving the church but those less committed to their religion are more likely to be questioning it, the survey found.

Whereas 46 percent of Catholics who seldom or never attend church say they have questioned whether they would remain in the faith, 37 percent of those who attend church on a monthly basis and 22 percent who attend weekly say the same.

Amid the latest scandal, about one in four US Catholics say they have very little or no confidence in US bishops and other Catholic leaders.

Only 40 percent of US Catholics say they have a “great deal” of confidence in Pope Francis.

Since the first high-profile abuse allegations against Catholic priests emerged in 2002 in Boston, many similar cases have rocked the Church, and 2018 brought another wave of such charges.

The credibility of the Catholic Church hierarchy sank last year after new reports of old sexual abuse and cover-up were uncovered in the US, Chile and elsewhere and implicated Pope Francis himself.

Mathew Schmalz, an expert on the Church and a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, says the Church may never regain its lost credibility.

In January, a former Catholic priest who had admitted to sexually abusing boys in Pennsylvania was sentenced to up to 14 years in prison – the second clergyman to be jailed in the wake of the state's sex misconduct report.

Former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was expelled by Pope Francis from the Roman Catholic priesthood in February after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against teenage boys and adult males, according to the Vatican.

McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in July, became the first Roman Catholic bishop in nearly 100 years to lose the title of cardinal for sex abuse.

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