A new survey claims that almost half of all Irish people believe that a fifth of Catholic priests are child abusers.
The survey was commissioned by the pro-religious Iona Institute and carried out by the Amarach Research group.
The Iona survey found that 42 per cent of Irish people put the number of abusive priests above 20 per cent of the clergy.
The Iona Institute says that the poll suggests that a clear majority of the public in Ireland overestimate the number of paedophile priests in the Irish Catholic Church.
Professor Patricia Casey, a consultant psychiatrist and Iona patron, analysed the survey which was carried out amongst a sample audience of one thousand adults in September.
“There has been very deep and completely justified public anger over the scandal of child sex abuse by clergy,” said Professor Casey.
“However, only a small minority of priests are guilty of this terrible crime and in the interests of justice, and in fairness to the vast majority of priests, it is essential that this fact becomes universally known among the public at large.”
A senior psychiatrist at the Mater Hospital in Dublin and a lecturer at UCD, Professor Casey claimed that the extent of the overestimation was ‘worrying’.
She added: “It might be understandable if the public were overestimating the number of guilty priests by a factor of two or so.
“But the fact that so many members of the public are grossly overestimating the number of guilty priests should be a matter of deep concern to all fair-minded people.”
The Iona Institute has also said that almost a third of those who participated in their survey were closer to the figure of 4 per cent of clerics reported in a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the US.