An Austrian priest avoids mention of Pope Benedict XVI in his Masses. A Philadelphia woman stops going to confession, saying she now sees priests as more flawed than herself. British protesters call for the pontiff to resign.
As the faithful fill churches this Holy Week, the Associated Press reports, many Roman Catholics around the world are finding their relationship to the church painfully tested by new revelations of clerical abuse and suggestions Benedict himself may have helped cover up cases in Germany and the U.S.
There are fears that for those whose commitment is already wavering, the scandal could be the final blow, and a growing chorus is clamoring for the church to embrace full transparency, take a hard line against pedophiles, and reconsider the rule of priestly celibacy.
"There's too many victims, and too much lying from the church about what really happened," said Martin Sherlock, a Catholic newspaper vendor in Dublin, Ireland.
Experts say the church is facing a crisis of historic proportions.
"This is the type of problem that arises really once in a century, I think, and it might even be more significant," said Paul Collins, an Australian church historian and former priest.
Collins, 69, said the abuse controversy was not mentioned by the priest in his own church near Canberra on Palm Sunday, but that the congregation discussed it afterward outside.
"People are outraged really, they're furious with the complete failure of the church's leadership and their view would be that we are led by incompetent people," Collins said.
That view was echoed by many Catholics interviewed around the world by The Associated Press in recent days, although the pope also had defenders.
One of them was John Ryan, a retired glue factory worker, who said he was impressed by the letter Benedict wrote to the Irish faithful last week in which he chastised Irish bishops.
"I was talking to my parish priest last weekend, and we were reading the pope's letter, and he told me: This pope is the most intelligent pope we've had in the last thousand years," said Ryan, 66, after a Mass in Dublin. "I couldn't disagree with that. I don't really think we could do better than with Benedict. I know they're supposed to be infallible, but I'd say most Catholics today would accept that nobody's perfect — not even the pope."
In staunchly Catholic Poland, the homeland of the late Pope John Paul II and a place where churches are packed even on work days, the top church authority called the pope the target of an "unprecedented media attack."
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