US priests distrust bishops and fear false abuse accusations

US priests distrust bishops

A new survey of Catholic priests in the United States details a widespread distrust of bishops and a fear that if they were falsely accused of abuse, prelates would not help them clear their name.

The study “Well-being, Trust and Policy in a Time of Crisis” by The Catholic Project, was written by Brandon Vaidyanathan, Christopher Jacobi and Chelsea Rae Kelly, of The Catholic University of America.

The study paints a portrait of a majority of priests who feel abandoned by the men they are supposed to trust at the helm of their dioceses.

The report polled 10,000 clergy. It received 3,516 responses from 191 dioceses. The researchers also conducted 100 intensive follow-up interviews.

The survey showed high levels of support for strict anti-sex abuse policies.

However, just under half of the survey respondents indicated they trust their bishop.

The survey also indicated most priests are happy in their work but report being overburdened. Priests said that they loved their work, registering marks high above the general population. Nearly eight out of ten priests could be described as “flourishing”.

Despite such high scores for contentment, 45 percent of priests showed at least one sign of burnout. Nearly one in ten showed severe signs. Younger priests were much more likely to indicate they felt burned out than older clergy.

A leading negative factor in assessing priests’ well-being was a lack of trust in their bishops. This led to an 11.5 per cent reduction in priestly well-being among those who expressed a lack of trust in their own bishop.

The survey also found widespread distrust of the bishops as a whole, with just under one quarter of priests expressing confidence in their leadership.

These attitudes were especially sharp when it came to fears that a priest might be falsely accused of sexual abuse and that the bishops would not help them fight the allegation.

Eighty-two percent of priests said they regularly fear being falsely accused. Were that to happen, they feel they would face a “de facto policy” of guilty until proven innocent.

“There’s this sense … that the bishops are against a priest who’s been accused, rather than doing what the bishop must do but still supporting the priest,” said one of the 100 priests of whom researchers asked in-depth questions.

“Most priests agree with the church’s response to the abuse crisis, but also fear that their bishops wouldn’t have their backs if they were falsely accused,” says Vaidyanathan.

Priests in the study said they predominantly see the prelates as social climbers, careerists and administrators who barely know priests in their diocese by name.

“I don’t really trust most of the bishops, to be honest with you. I’ll show them all a great amount of respect. And if I was in their diocese, I would really serve them and try,” a priest told researchers.

“But just looking across the United States and looking across a lot of bishops … I would say I have an overall negative opinion of bishops in the United States.

“They’re really not leaders or they’re just kind of chameleons … looking to climb up the ladder.”


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