Negative attitudes towards the Church and its leadership have increased in recent years, due to hostility to official teaching and clerical sexual abuse, a new academic study has found, reports The Tablet.
An analysis of 180 opinion polls among British adults from the 1950s up until the present day showed that while latent and institutional anti-Catholicism has died away there was been a steady decline in esteem for Church and clergy.
The findings are revealed in an article by Dr Clive Field, who holds honorary academic posts at the Universities of Birmingham and Manchester, for the latest edition of theJournal of Religion in Europe. Dr Field’s research of the opinion polls found that particularly since 2000 hostility to the Church as an institution has increased.
He shows that Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code – which paints the Church in an unflattering light – has had a big impact in Britain, being the most widely read of 19 books of modern fiction according to a poll last year, with 41 per cent of those who had read the book believing its central claim that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had children by her, and the Church kept this a secret over 2000 years.
Separately, a YouGov poll in June 2013 found that almost 30 per cent thought the Church was a negative force in society with perceived discrimination against women and gays, clerical sexual abuse and “hypocrisy” cited as the main reasons for disapproval.
Findings also show that Catholics – and not just the general public - believe the Church is out of touch on moral and gender issues. This, Dr Field argues, suggests that hostility to the Church is not a new form of anti-Catholicism.
'For what Britons interviewed in opinion polls have been rejecting and challenging, de facto…is the Magisterium of the Church,' he writes. 'Yet it would seem extreme to regard criticism of the Catholic Church in Britain, which is part of a wider religious trend (the diminishing authority of Church and clergy and Bible) and which is widely shared by Catholics, as motivated by anti-Catholicism as a discrete phenomenon.'