A new survey shows a strong decline in trust for religious institutions in Guam. The decline is attributed to the filing of more than 100 sex abuse cases against former and current members of the clergy and the loss of trust in the Catholic Church.
The poll was conducted by a private entity at the request of attorney David Lujan who represents dozens of child sex abuse victims. The results are expected to be released to the Archdiocese of Agana in the coming weeks.
During the last status conference before District Court Judge Joaquin Manibusan Jr., Lujan mentioned that the poll found an unfavorable attitude toward the church from those surveyed.
Three hundred Guam voters were surveyed over the telephone in May. The average age of those polled was 40. Individuals between ages 18 and 90 participated in the poll and surveyors noted a sample error of +/- 3 percent.
The poll notes that religious officials rank highly in trust measurement surveys in Guam, second only to members of the judiciary in terms of public respect and trust.
The executive summary of the survey indicates that there has been a “marked decrease” in church trust in the last year with nearly double the number losing trust as those who reported trust increasing.
“The major impact on this trust appears to be religious officials and a decrease in credibility,” the survey summary states.
Poll participants were asked a series of questions including if their trust in the church or religious faith has increased, decreased or stayed the same.
Twenty-four percent had a decrease in faith while 13 percent had an increase in faith.
“The survey notes this is nearly a 2:1 loss to gain ratio. This is an unusual decline in the overall concept of religious faith in Guam,” the poll states.
The loss in trust also contributed to a significant drop in church attendance.
About 30 percent of those surveyed, reported church attendance has dropped in the last year while 12 percent reported attendance had increased.
The survey indicates that the survey was conducted in the month following Lent and Easter and should have been a peak attendance season for the island’s Catholic faithful.
Twenty percent of participants reported donating less to the church in the last year while 10 percent stated they donated more.
The surveyors reported that people do not donate or give money to those whom they don’t trust and the decline in faith is likely a factor in the corresponding drop in contributions to the church.
Participants were asked if they believe the current allegations of sexual abuse of children by church officials.
Nearly two-thirds of the those surveyed said they believed the allegations of sexual abuse were true while less than 10 percent said they did not believe the allegations.
The poll asked residents if they would recommend a lawyer or a church-affiliated process to a family member or friend who was abused by a church official.
Two hundred twenty-five of the 300 people polled said they would recommend a lawyer. The survey notes this further supports a “strong lack of trust” in religious organizations.
The public was also asked how they believed the alleged sexual abuse of children by church officials could continue unchecked for so long.
“It appears to be a mixture of fear and shame contrasted with the actions of powerful perpetrators and an organizational structure that appears to have shielded them from enforcement actions,” the poll summary states. “There is a longstanding culture of denial in Guam for these types of allegations reinforced by church leadership structures that appeared to divert complaints internally.”
Tony Diaz, the archdiocese's communications director, said the church is aware these “terrible developments” have impacted many of our local Catholics in a very negative way.
Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes has publicly stated that great trust has been broken.
Diaz said the church wants to see the poll and the results before making any comment.