While nearly a quarter of the U.S. identifies as Catholic (23.9%) according to the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, the Catholic Church has lost more members over the past few decades than any other major religion. Well before recent allegations of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and their coverup by the Catholic Church, roughly a quarter (27%) of former Catholics who no longer identify with a religion cited clergy sexual abuse scandals as a reason for leaving the Church. Among former Catholics who now identify as Protestant, 21% say the sexual abuse scandals were a reason for leaving the Catholic Church. Former Catholics are about evenly divided between those who have become Protestant and those who are now unaffiliated with any religion. Nearly six-in-ten former Catholics who are now unaffiliated say they left Catholicism because of dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality, about half cite concerns about Catholic teachings on birth control and roughly four-in-ten name unhappiness with Catholicism’s treatment of women. Among former Catholics who are now Protestant, spiritual needs not being met and finding a religious more to their liking were the most cited reasons for leaving the Catholic Church. When asked to explain in their own words the main reason for leaving Catholicism, about half of former Catholics (54% of those who are now unaffiliated and 47% of those who are now Protestant) cite a disagreement with the Catholic Church’s religious or moral beliefs. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.