Major Survey of Catholic Priests Reveals Trust Issues, Burnout and Fear of False Claims


Regarding trust, the report indicates that on average, 49% of diocesan priests today express trust in their bishop. Levels of trust varied widely between dioceses, and data shows the level of trust was down from 63% in 2001 – the year before the sexual abuse crisis, which included many revelations of bishops mishandling abuse cases, exploded in the United States.

“Diocesan priests report significantly lower levels of trust in their bishops than religious priests in their major superiors. Trust in U.S. bishops as a whole is low among priests in general, with only 24 percent expressing confidence in the leadership and decision-making of bishops in general,” the report states.

At Wednesday’s press conference, the researchers said they would not release information about which priests from which dioceses participated, citing confidentiality agreements.

Trust issues between priests and their bishop are associated with an 11.5% reduction in that priest’s level of well-being, on average. There was also a disparity between perceptions about whether bishops would help priests in their personal struggles. Ninety-two percent of bishops said they would “very well” help a priest in his personal difficulties, while only 36% of diocesan priests said this about their bishop. Additionally, a small majority of priests said they viewed their bishop primarily as an administrator, as opposed to a spiritual father.

Most of the priests interviewed lean on their parishioners and lay friends for support, more than their bishop, according to the reported notes.

“A relationship of trust with one’s bishop is strongly associated with all dimensions of priestly well-being…priests who have greater trust in their bishops fare significantly better than all others,” the report states. .

Fears of false accusations

Regarding the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis, 90% of priests consider their dioceses to have a strong culture of child safety and protection, and nearly 70% of diocesan priests consider policy positively demonstrates the values ​​of the Church and is important for reconstruction. trust with the general public.

At the same time, however, 40% of priests consider the “zero tolerance” policy for wrongdoing too harsh, and many fear that a single false allegation of sexual abuse could ruin them, the report says. Of the priests surveyed, a large majority – 82% – said they regularly fear false allegations. And many diocesan priests fear being abandoned by their diocese and their bishop if they find themselves falsely accused, more than religious priests.

“Living in constant fear of a deadly accusation definitely puts a cloud over the priesthood,” an unnamed diocesan priest told researchers.

“And honestly, I think most priests have that. Because the death accusation doesn’t have to be based on reality. You know, it may just come out of three years of recovered memory, therapy, and have no basis in anything that actually happened, but you’re still doomed when it happens,” the priest recounted. “And everyone knows it.”

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Some priests have also expressed concern about recent developments in the Church to strengthen the protection of “vulnerable adults” as being perhaps too broad and leading to a lack of due process for priests accused of misconduct involving vulnerable adults.

“Pursuing the Dallas Charter goals of creating safe environments, providing healing, reconciliation, and justice for victims of clerical sexual abuse, and holding abusers and enablers accountable, should not be considered inconsistent with the ‘providing support and due process to priests,’ the report said. .

“Justice demands that the Church protect the innocent, including innocent priests,” the report stresses.

Ideas for moving forward

The priests interviewed by the researchers offered several recommendations to improve priests’ confidence in their bishops and superiors.

They recommended that bishops strengthen their relationships with priests in a family way, rather than in a CEO or employer way; know the names of priests, engage authentically with priests in social events, and find ways to relate to priests humbly and unbureaucratically.


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