Trust in the Clergy

How trustworthy are the clergy, both absolutely and in relation to other professionals? Several opinion poll companies have tried to answer this question over the years, including Ipsos MORI, which has data on the extent to which Britons trust the clergy to tell the truth or not going back to 1983, some of which is abstracted at:

GfK Custom Research has undertaken a similar exercise annually since 2003, asking respondents whether they trust the clergy and other groups or not. But GfK has polled internationally and not just in Britain.

Most recently GfK surveyed 15 European countries (including by telephone in the UK) and the United States, Brazil, Colombia and India in February and March 2010 on behalf of the Wall Street Journal Europe, with an average of just under 1,000 interviews in each nation.

GfK has issued a press release about the 2010 survey, which will be found at:

Unfortunately, it does not feature any of the UK results. However, some of these have been made available exclusively to British Religion in Numbers by Mark Hofmans of GfK Custom Research and are quoted here with his kind permission.

Across all countries, trust in the clergy stands at 58%, the range being from 33% in France to 86% in Romania. In the UK the figure is 63%, the highest in Western Europe (and 15% above the sub-continental average), closely followed by Sweden on 62%.

But UK citizens’ trust in the clergy is far less than in doctors (85%), the army (85%), schoolteachers (84%) and policemen (73%), although it exceeds confidence in lawyers (48%), managers of large enterprises (34%), journalists (21%) and politicians (14%).  

GfK report that, internationally, trust in the clergy declined by 8% between 2009 and 2010, from 66% to 58%, and by as much as 17% in Germany, which GfK largely attributes to the adverse publicity surrounding the abuse of children and young people by Roman Catholic priests and the Church’s perceived inadequate response to these events.

In the UK the fall from 2009 to 2010 was only 3%, perhaps reflecting the fact that the Roman Catholic Church in Britain has been somewhat less caught up in the scandals than its counterparts in Ireland and continental Europe. The 66% having trust in the clergy in the UK in 2009 was also 6 points higher than in 2008.

Although somewhat less that the number of Britons telling Ipsos MORI that they trust the clergy to tell the truth (71% in 2009), and notwithstanding a continuing trickle of ‘naughty vicar’ stories in the media (the latest about sham marriages), the GfK figure of 63% in the UK having confidence in the clergy is still surprisingly high (and not far behind the United States on 69%).

How do we interpret this? Is the lingering respect for clergy a recognition of the influence which they exercise in the leadership of the local communities which they serve, or do we still derive comfort from the knowledge that the clergy of all denominations and faiths set a lead in religious commitment and moral standards which the rest of us will but imperfectly follow?

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