The Catholic Church: A Failed Institution?

07/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's a tough time to be an institution
in America.

That's the take-home message from
some recent polls conducted by my polling outfit, Zogby International.
In February, we released a
poll revealing the truly abysmal levels of confidence
Americans have in many historically significant institutions. While
Americans still have "a lot" or "some confidence" in small businesses
(83%), local banks (73%), and colleges and universities (60%),
government, corporations, the media, and Wall Street all receive a vote
of confidence from fewer than 50% of the public. Organized religion
finishes in the middle, as shown in the chart below, even with a quarter
of Americans saying they have "no confidence at all" in organized

Confidence in Lot Some Total Little No Total Not sure
Small Businesses 32% 51% 83% 14% 3% 16% 1%
Your Local Bank 24% 48% 73% 17% 7% 24% 3%
Colleges &
13% 46% 60% 24% 15% 40% 1%
Local Government 9% 48% 57% 28% 14% 42% 1%
Organized Religions 19% 34% 53% 21% 25% 46% 2%
Public Education 8% 37% 45% 31% 24% 54% 1%
Federal Government 8% 33% 41% 32% 27% 59% 1%
State Government 5% 36% 41% 37% 22% 59% 1%
Corporations 5% 32% 38% 33% 28% 61% 2%
National &
Regional Banks
3% 29% 33% 32% 34% 66% 1%
Wall Street 3% 28% 31% 31% 36% 68% 2%
Labor Unions 6% 25% 31% 22% 45% 66% 3%
News Media 3% 18% 21% 34% 44% 78% 1%

More sobering news for organized religion's
future as an American institution is found in
two polls released
this week
. The Catholic
Church, arguably the most important religious institution in the country,
finds itself embroiled in another wave of clerical sexual abuse allegations
and subsequent cover-ups by Catholic Church hierarchy. While this latest
round of cases concerns incidents that occurred primarily in Europe,
these two polls demonstrate that the repercussions from American Catholics
concerning their increasingly negative views of Catholic Church leaders
are continuing.

In our own poll, conducted among 705
American Catholics between April 30 and May 3, we found that job approval
of Pope Benedict XVI and American Bishops has reached historic lows.
Only 56% of American Catholics approve of the overall job that
Pope Benedict XVI doing, with an additional 45% approving of the overall
job that the American Catholic Bishops are doing. And when it
comes to handling the sexual abuse crisis, numbers are even lower. A
plurality of respondents gave Pope Benedict XVI (30%) and the American
Catholic Bishops (43%) a "poor" rating on their efforts to address
abuse within the church.

Do you approve or disapprove of the overall job that (a)Pope Benedict XVI (b) the American Catholic Bishops are doing?

Pope Benedict XVI American Catholic Bishops
Strongly Approve 24% 8%
32% 37%
56% 45%
17% 26%
15% 17%
32% 44%
Not sure 12% 11%

Overall, how would you rate (a) Pope Benedict XVI (b) the American Catholic Bishops' efforts to address the sexual abuse situation within the Catholic Church?

Pope Benedict XVI American Catholic Bishops
Excellent 15% 8%
Good 23% 12%
Positive 39% 20%
Fair 26% 29%
Poor 30% 43%
Negative 56% 72%
Not sure 6% 8%

Some have called for Pope Benedict
XVI to resign as a result of the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Others believe he should not resign. Do you believe Pope Benedict XVI
should resign, or do you believe he should continue as Pope?

Pope Benedict XVI should continue as Pope 64%
Pope Benedict XVI should resign 16%
Don't know/not sure 20%

One bright spot of support of the Catholic
Church hierarchy: 64% of American Catholics believe Pope Benedict XVI
should stay in his job. In our view, the historically low job
approval numbers of the pope and bishops indicate the continuing impact
the sexual abuse revelations have on the morale of American Catholics
and their evaluation of their leaders. However, the fact
that almost two-thirds of Catholics want Pope Benedict to remain as
the head of their church may mean that Catholics are not yet ready relegate
their church to the ever-increasing list of failed and failing American
institutions. It is a monumental challenge for the Catholic Church to
overcome the staggeringly long list of difficulties and general lack
of trust it currently faces, but it is a challenge the Catholic Church
must overcome if it has any hope of returning to a position of leadership
and moral authority for American Catholics and others around the world.