New research from a survey of about 2800 Australian Catholic churchgoers shows that almost half say that the revelations of clerical sex abuse have damaged their confidence in church authorities, reports The Australian.
Bob Dixon, director of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Research Office, which released the findings on Friday, said they showed many Catholics continued to respect individual priests, but not the church's senior leaders.
"They're making a distinction between institutional failure and the people they see every day," Dr Dixon said.
The survey, carried out in more than 200 parishes, found 54 per cent of those who attend mass agreed that "the response of church authorities to these incidences (of child abuse) has been inadequate and shows a complete failure of responsibility".
Just 19 per cent of those surveyed disagreed, figures that have changed only slightly since the survey was last taken in 2006.
Overwhelmingly, it was older people who were more likely to be critical of the church's leadership on the issue. "Older people have invested their whole life in the church. They have trusted bishops and they have been seriously disappointed," Dr Dixon said.
The crisis, in which church leaders had been criticised for failing to report allegations of child abuse by priests to the police, had also contributed to "a slow and inexorable decline" in attendance rates at mass, he said.