March 13 (UPI) -- There are more U.S. Catholics questioning whether to remain in the church than there were 17 years ago amid a stream of sexual abuse allegations against priests, a new Gallup poll indicates.
Some 37 percent of Catholics polled said they have personally questioned whether they should remain with the church compared to 22 percent in 2002. The survey, published Wednesday, said 62 percent said they have not questioned changing faith, compared to 76 percent in 2002.
The 2002 survey was done after the Boston Globe reported that Catholic priests were allegedly involved in widespread abuse in the Boston area and church leadership was involved in hiding those accusations.
The current Gallup survey interviewed 581 U.S. Catholics from Jan. 21-27 and Feb. 12-28 while Pope Francis met with Roman Catholic leaders from around the world at the Vatican to respond to a new wave of sex abuse allegations in numerous countries.
Francis was pointed with U.S. church leaders in January about the scandal, telling bishops that it has damaged the church's credibility, which has "seriously undercut and diminished" its standing.
The Gallup survey suggested that while Catholics appear more shaken now by the church than in 2002, it did not reveal how that may translate into actual lost followers.
"However, it is unclear whether Catholics who are questioning their church membership will actually decide to leave the church," Jeffrey Jones, of Gallup, said. "Many Catholics may consider leaving the church but ultimately decide not to do so, or they may have no intention of leaving but simply be responding to this question as a way to express their frustration with the way the church has handled the problem."
The survey went on the say that 59 percent of Catholics have either "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in their local priests while 58 percent said the same of Pope Francis. Those numbers dropped to 32 percent when asked about their feeling about Catholic priests in general around the U.S. and 30 percent of confidence in bishops and other Catholic leaders.