Protestant churchgoers are more likely to have close relationships with their pastors than Catholics have with their priests. They’re also more likely to express confidence in the advice their clergy give them on issues ranging from marriage to mental health.
That, at least, is what the faithful reported in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
Twenty-five percent of Protestants said they felt “very close” to their clergy, compared with 8% of Catholics. Conversely, four in 10 Catholics reported they were not even somewhat close to their clergy. Two in 10 Protestants said the same.
“There was a clear pattern throughout the survey that Protestant and Catholics have different levels of trust in religious leaders,” said Claire Gecewicz, a research associate at Pew Research Center involved in the study. “It found that Catholics are less trusting of clergy.”
The study was based on an online survey last year of 6,354 randomly selected adults who attended religious services “a few times a year or more,” who are part of Pew’s American Trends Panel.
“There were a lot of questions and scandals in religious institutions in 2019,” said Gecewicz, referring in particular to clergy sex abuse lawsuits. “We thought it would be a good time to dig into the idea of religion and trust, to learn about the trust levels of religious institutions and religious leaders.”
The survey examined Christians’ personal relationships with their clergy, as well as the confidence they had in their guidance. About half in both faiths said they were “somewhat close” to the person leading their worship services. But faith in their advice differed widely by issue.
While majorities of Protestants and Catholics expressed some or a lot of confidence in their clergy’s guidance on becoming “closer to God,” interpreting the Bible was another matter. Just half of Catholics said they had “a lot” of confidence in their clergy’s scripture interpretation, compared with 70% of Protestants.
Likewise, Protestants were far more likely to trust the guidance of their pastors on questions about marriage, relationships and parenting. Nearly 60% reported “a lot” of confidence in their clergy’s guidance on marriage and relationships, for example, compared with 30% of Catholics — whose clergy are not allowed to marry or have children.
On the hot-button issue of abortion, nearly half — 46% — of Protestants said they had “a lot” of confidence in their clergy’s advice. That compares with about a third of Catholics.
Among Protestants, the survey found that evangelical Christians and Christians belonging to historically black churches reported the strongest faith in their leaders’ guidance.