Cardinal John Dew of New Zealand said the bishops of the country “humbly acknowledge our shortcomings” after a new survey of religion in the island nation says only a third of the country identifies as Christian, down from 43 percent in 2013 and 49 percent in 2006.
The Faith and Belief in New Zealand report was commissioned by the Auckland-based Wilberforce Foundation, a Christian organization.
The main reason given for a failure to engage with Christianity was Church teachings on homosexuality – mentioned by 47 percent of the respondents – with the doctrine of Hell closely following, at 45 percent.
Dew, the Archbishop of Wellington and vice president of the bishops’ conference, said Church leaders have fallen short, “especially with regards to particular groups in society, such as the LGBT community, who have felt a very real sense of rejection through the Church, or perhaps in falling short in fully meeting the needs of our recent migrant communities.”
The report also said the sexual abuse crisis has caused the greatest negative perception for Christianity, with Christians not practicing what they preach coming second.
“We hear too the call of those who want to see our actions speak louder than our words, by living out the values that Jesus represents,” Dew said in remarks reported by The New Zealand Herald.
“The findings from this survey speak to Pope Francis’s latest exhortation [Gaudete et Exsultate], in which he says ‘we are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves’,” the cardinal said.
The report found that younger people were less likely to identify with Christianity than older people, and that 20 percent of the population said they had spiritual beliefs without identifying with a religious tradition.
The report found that although fewer people are identifying with Christianity, the public perception of Jesus is quite positive, even among non-Christians. It also found that people appreciate the humanitarian work performed by Christian charities.
“The study also points to opportunities for faith communities, with recognition among both non-Christians and Christians that the Church is involved in areas of social good and that faith too has a role in contributing to the wellbeing of our society,” Dew said.