WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – A record number of people throughout the United States have expressed a lack of trust in clergy members, according to a new poll.

When asked by researchers at Gallup to rate the honesty and ethics of clergy members, less than half of those who participated in the study ranked them positively. The 47 percent who did represent the smallest group to do so since 1977.

“If views of a certain profession have changed, it usually has been a function of scandal surrounding it,” researchers indicated. “The Catholic priest abuse stories from the early 2000s helped lead to a sharp drop in Americans’ ratings of clergy, a decline from which the profession has yet to fully recover.”

release on the poll’s findings additionally noted, “Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67 percent in 1985.”

The news came just days after Time magazine selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year on Wednesday. Editors noted that the Catholic Church’s new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time.

The pope beat out NSA leaker Edward Snowden for the distinction, which the newsmagazine has been giving each year since 1927.

The former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected in March as the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. Since taking over at the Vatican, he has urged the Catholic Church not to be obsessed with “small-minded rules” and to emphasize compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics like abortion, gays and contraception.

He has denounced the world’s “idolatry of money” and the “global scandal” that nearly 1 billion people today go hungry, and has charmed the masses with his simple style and wry sense of humor. His appearances draw tens of thousands of people and his @Pontifex Twitter account recently topped 10 million followers.

“He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world’s largest institutions in an extraordinary way,” said Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s managing editor.

It was the third time a Catholic pope had been Time’s selection. John Paul II was selected in 1994 and John XXIII was chosen in 1962.

Clergy members performed significantly better than newspaper and television reporters – who garnered the trust of just 21 and 20 percent of the nation, respectively – and members of Congress, who only earned high ratings for honesty and ethics from 8 percent of Americans. Lobbyists were ranked the lowest, with only 6 percent rating them favorably.

Nurses ranked the highest with 82 percent of the nation praising their ethics, a status they have maintained since 1999 when they were first included in the poll.

A pool of 1,031 randomly selected American adults was polled on the matter between Dec. 5 and Dec. 8 for the study.

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