In a very interesting report recently released by the PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life, which covers a variety of issues ecclesiastical and political in nature concerning Roman Catholic views in the United States, shows that 83% of those polled are “Satisfied with leadership of ‘U.S. Nuns, Sisters,'” while only 70% are “Satisfied with leadership of ‘American Bishops.'” By percentage points, those polled are more satisfied — in descending order — with “Your Parish Priest,” “Your [Local] Bishop,” and “The Pope,” over the collective category of “American Bishops.”

The PEW researchers explain in their summary report:

he percentage of Catholics who say they are satisfied with the leadership of American bishops is significantly higher than it was a decade ago, at the height of the church’s child sex abuse scandal (70% today, 51% in 2002).

While Catholics are generally satisfied with the leadership of their local and national clergy, they express the highest satisfaction with leadership of U.S. nuns and local parish priests. About half say they are very satisfied with the leadership that nuns and priests provide (50% U.S. nuns, 49% their own parish priests). By comparison, 36% of Catholics say they are very satisfied with the leadership of their bishop, 34% with the pope’s leadership and 24% with the leadership of American bishops.

Interestingly, and perhaps alarmingly to those American Bishops involved in the recent LCWR “doctrinal assessment” and its wake, those who self-identify as “more observant” (a category largely informed by frequency of Mass attendance) and “White” are not less-satisfied with the “U.S. Nuns, Sisters,” but share the more general level of satisfaction with their work and leadership within the Church. This population, however, is in fact more satisfied with the leadership of “The Pope,” “Your [Local] Bishop,” “Your Parish Priest,” than the broader population. And that population is (only) six-percentage-points more satisfied with the “American Bishops” than the broader pool, but still ranks the “American Bishops” the lowest in terms of satisfaction with leadership — eight-perecentage-points behind the “U.S. Nuns, Sisters” and an impressive thirteen-perecentage-points behind “Your Parish Priest.”

White Catholics who attend Mass frequently are more satisfied with the leadership provided by the pope, bishops and parish priests than are those who attend less frequently. However, there is no significant difference in views of the leadership provided by nuns: 90% of low attendance white Catholics and 84% of more frequent attenders are satisfied with the leadership of U.S. nuns and sisters.

What does this mean for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States? Perhaps not much, at least in terms of its potential to affect policy and practice on the part of the church’s leadership.

However, it does say something very significant about the broader population’s view of the American Sisters who are perceived by self-identified “less-observant” and “more-observant” Catholics alike as offering satisfactory leadership for the Church. The American Bishops, however, receive the lowest endorsement of their leadership in each category polled, including the group most likely to rank their leadership higher: “white, observant” Catholics.

I wonder what the USCCB leadership thinks of this news.

Photo: PEW Forum


  1. Surely, the bishops must be alarmed by this. After all, the whole point of being a bishop is to ensure that everyone is “satisfied” with you. Popularity is, no doubt, the best measure that a leader is doing the right thing. But to make matters even worse, I was just reading the New Testament and discovered that Jesus left many, many people “unsatisfied.” Would you believe that they were so unsatisfied with him that they even killed him?

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