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There was a time when, almost without exception, a priest was regarded as a respected member of the community.
Today, the news that yet another cleric has been accused of sexually abusing children is not uncommon.
John Wilkins, editor ofCatholic weekly The Tablet, says the image of the church has beentarnished "appallingly" by paedophile priests around the world.
"It has done enormous damage to priests themselves - their morale is very low. They feel depressed and defensive.
"It has been appalling for church - there is mistrust between parishioners and their priest, the general public and priests."
Since 1994, the Catholic Church has had strict child protection procedures.
Previously, a suspectedpaedophile priest would most likely be shuffled sideways to anotherparish. Today, the church authorities inform the police, move thealleged abuser to a safe house, and suspend him or her from pastoralduties.
In October 1999, PopeJohn Paul II sacked Father John Lloyd, who raped a 16-year-old girl andindecently assaulted two altar boys in south Wales - the first suchdismissal of a British priest in recent history.
The Pope dismissed American three priests in 1998, and sacked two diocesan priests in Ireland in recent years.
Yet Mr Wilkins questionswhether those at the top of the church hierarchy take the issueseriously enough. The Pope has twice received the former archbishop ofVienna, Hans Hermann Groer, at the Vatican, despite allegations that hehad sexually molested young clergymen.
The Irish government haslaunched an inquiry into allegations of abuse at so-called industrialschools, where children were detained if their parents were deemed toopoor to look after them, or if they stole or played truant.
Campaigners say the priests and nuns subjected most of the children in their care to physical or sexual attacks.
Following these and otherallegations made during the 1990s, the Christian Brothers, the Oblatesof Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of Mercy have issued publicapologies for abuse inflicted over the years in their institutions.
The Christian Brothershave also been implicated in sex scandals in Canada. More than 300former pupils at Mount Cashel orphanage, Newfoundland, have alleged thelay brothers abused them.
The scandal forced the order to sell property and assets to pay legal and compensation bills.
In 1998, the Roman Catholic Church in Dallas, Texas, agreed to pay more than $30m to 12 former altar boys molested by a priest.
Church authorities allegedly ignored warnings and covered up FatherRudolph Kos's activities. He is serving a life sentence for more than1,300 attacks carried out between 1981 and 1992.
Back in Britain, thisyear the victims of convicted paedophile Father Eric Taylor have saidthey plan to sue the church for failing to protect them.
Taylor is serving aseven-year prison sentence for sexual offences against children inFather Hudson's Homes in the 1960s, a Catholic charity.
Earlier this month,Father James Murphy pleaded guilty to 18 charges of indecent assaultagainst seven children at south London parishes from 1976 to 1990. Heattacked some of his victims in church itself.
In April, prisonauthorities in Ireland moved Father Eugene Greene to another jailfollowing attempts to kill him. The retired priest is serving a 12-yearsentence for abusing altar boys.
Four years ago, FatherAdrian McLeish, of Durham, was jailed for six years. He had abused fourboys - the sons of parishioners - and boasted about it on the internet.Police had seized the UK's biggest collection of child pornography fromhis home.
Although Mr Wilkins saysit would be difficult to link the scandals to the falling numbersattending mass, "it certainly won't put attendance up."
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