Leaders of the Catholic Church in New Zealand say they "humbly acknowledge" their shortcomings, especially with regards to groups such as the LGBT and migrant communities.

The comment was in a statement by Cardinal John Dew, Catholic Archbishop of Wellington and vice-president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC), in response to new research showing a sharp decline in the percentage of New Zealanders who identify as Christian.

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Dew said the NZCBC, national body for the heads of the six Catholic dioceses, "humbly acknowledge our shortcomings, 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".

"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," Cardinal John Dew said. Photo / File

"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.

"The findings from this survey speak to Pope Francis' latest exhortation, 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 research is in a report titled Faith and Belief and New Zealand and commissioned by the Wilberforce Foundation, a Christian organisation based in Auckland.

It found 55 per cent of New Zealanders do not identify with a "main religion" and one in three identify as Christian, down from 49 per cent at the 2006 Census. The "Church's teaching on homosexuality" is the biggest blocker to New Zealanders engaging with Christianity, the report says.

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The Catholic Bishop of Auckland, Patrick Dunn has written that the call to stand by
The Catholic Bishop of Auckland, Patrick Dunn has written that the call to stand by "all who feel marginalised or threatened" is "deeply embedded in Catholic Church teaching". Photo / Janna Dixon

Dew's reference to the LGBT community chimes with a column by the Catholic Bishop of Auckland, Patrick Dunn, published last year.

In a piece titled "Building a bridge, our gay brothers and sisters" and published by NZ Catholic, he wrote that he, like many others, has gay friends and family members.

"For some years I have been troubled by the sense of rejection they often feel with regard to the Church," he wrote. "Could we find some new way to converse with the LGBT community?"

He goes on to say: "Compassion calls us to 'listen' to people. What is it really like growing up as a gay boy, or a lesbian girl, or a transgender person?

"Deeply embedded in Catholic Church teaching is the call to stand by all who feel marginalised or threatened.

"Sensitivity prompts us to be alert to the 'feelings' of others, but we cannot know their feelings unless we are their friends.

"Devout Catholics may say that our first responsibility is to tell people to stop sinning.

"But that was generally not the approach taken by Jesus. He was more often the butt of criticism for dining with sinners and clearly enjoying their company."