July 18, 2007 / 12:20 PM / 12 years ago

Catholic Church steady despite scandals

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church that rocked Boston six years ago and rippled across the country before the latest after-shock in Los Angeles does not appear to have markedly thinned the church’s ranks or the money it takes in.

Catholics kneel during Mass in a file photo. The sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church that rocked Boston six years ago and rippled across the country before the latest after-shock in Los Angeles does not appear to have markedly thinned the church's ranks or the money it takes in. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“The church is much bigger than any one parish or any one diocese. It’s not about the bishops. I attend because I believe,” said Mike, 41, as he left a lunchtime Mass at Saint Francis Xavier church in downtown Cincinnati on Tuesday.

Declining to give his last name, he described himself as a lifelong Catholic who still contributes money because “it’s part of being in the church.”

He is not an anomaly. According to figures put together in 2006 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, a Catholic university in Washington, there was a slight dip in Mass attendance after the Boston scandals broke.

But it said an analysis of surveys and polls since shows little evidence Roman Catholics have left the church in significant numbers or cut back what they toss in the collection baskets.

“The laity are very angry, but their anger is not leading them to diminish their contributions. Apparently they’re used to having incompetents as bishops,” the Rev. Andrew Greeley, a priest, author, sociologist and frequent critic of his church, told Reuters.

Mary Pat Fox, president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed after the Boston scandals broke, said she found it “alarming” that some surveys show 74 percent of Catholics think their bishops are doing a good job.

While contributions may not have declined, she said, the number of contributors has, so “some major contributors are carrying the load.”

Her group also says weekly church attendance has slipped to 17 percent of Catholics in some areas, compared to 34 percent estimated by the Georgetown report.

Catholic Charities said it “experienced no measurable impact on giving as a result of the scandal. We did not see a groundswell of people turning their backs on Catholic Charities and the people they serve.”

LARGEST U.S. DENOMINATION

About 22 percent of the U.S. population identifies itself as Roman Catholic, the largest single denomination in the country. That figure is little changed from 1965, but today’s church has larger numbers of Hispanics who, some experts have said, tend to be more steadfastly faithful.

Abuse scandals have cropped up over the years, but reached a new level in 2002 in Boston, where the church eventually reached a $85 million settlement covering 550 people. The Los Angeles settlement was a record $660 million for 508 victims.

In Boston the sale of property, from parishes to its headquarters, to raise money to pay settlements has stirred anger against the church among the faithful. And the church’s voice was barely heard as the Massachusetts statehouse debated a proposed amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

Dean Hoge, a professor of sociology at Catholic University in Washington, said that on the basis of Mass attendance and confidence in bishops, the Boston events of 2002 did not change things nationally.

Hoge, author with three others of “American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church,” said “some people say all religion like all politics is local” and the local ties to pastors and church communities count highly.

He also said there is a generational divide, with people 60 and over more committed to the Church than the young, so there could be declines in membership ahead.

In heavily Catholic Cincinnati, Danielle Hill, 21, a student and pharmacy technician, said she and her friends had discussed the abuse scandals, but it had not shaken her faith.

“I was just raised that way, and I like to go,” she said. “I guess you always want to believe the good in people not the bad, and you hope that it is not as widespread as it seems.”

Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Cincinnati

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