American Catholics have been profoundly affected by the unfolding abuse scandal. When it first came to widespread attention in 2001-2002, there was shock, horror and quite a large measure of denial.
Over time, I think that most Catholics have, in a sad and unhealthy way, gotten used to continuing revelations of appalling behavior by Church members who are often, but not always, members of the clergy.
It seems to me that Catholics in several respects now regard the Church in the way that many Americans view Congress. Polls tell us that they have little respect for the institution but, by and large, trust their local Congressman. Catholics who may have a very low opinion of the hierarchy over the child sexual abuse scandal still like and trust their own pastor and enjoy being part of parish life.
Having said that, it appears that the scandal has had a deeply corrosive effect on the moral authority of Church leadership. Some would say that the erosion began with Humanae Vitae – contraceptive use, divorce rates and abortion percentages for Catholics now differ little from the general population – and that the abuse scandal has accelerated the rate of defection from acceptance of Church teachings.
I don’t know how it will end. I do know that “former Catholic” is now one of the largest “denominations” in the United States.