It wasn’t too long ago before the Catholic Church had an iron grip on Ireland, having to approve nearly every bit of “sensitive” legislation that was passed. Abortion was illegal, condoms weren’t available, and non-Catholics were apostates in the Republic of Ireland. That’s changing rapidly now, and guest writer Sigmund posts his take on what’s going on:
Sharp Decline in Irish Support for the Roman Catholic Church
It is important not to underestimate the value of Ireland to the Roman Catholic Church. Ireland was, and still is, the only English speaking majority Catholic country. It houses several seminaries and religious academies that historically produced highly educated priests, nuns and Christian brothers who were exported around the world to teach and support Catholic doctrine. The nation has frequently been held up as an example of an island of steadfast religiosity amongst a rising tide of European secularization. However, a recent series of Irish government reports dealing with child abuse have brought the church and its role into question. While the Catholic Church has been heavily criticized in both the media and by the Irish leader, it has been unclear to what extent, if any, support amongst the general population of Ireland has been damaged.
To examine this question, the Dublin based Iona Institute, a conservative religious lobby group that promotes Vatican approved catholic values, recently commissioned a survey of public opinion on Catholicism in Ireland.
The survey asked over 1000 members of the public a number of questions dealing with religious practice, beliefs about the value of the Catholic Church and finally a question about the perception of the prevalence of abuse by priests. The survey was carried out in September 2011, two months after the release of a government commissioned report dealing with child abuse and the subsequent Vatican directed cover-up in the rural Cloynes diocese of county Cork.
The findings include
- Catholicism continues its steady decline in Ireland – 69% of those surveyed said they were Catholic, down from 87% in 2006.
- 30% went to mass in the previous week, down from 48% in 2006 – and from over 90% in the 1970s!
- Only 20% agreed that the Irish government was “excessively hostile” towards the Catholic Church. 40% disagreed that the government was hostile with a further 34% saying that the government was essentially neutral towards the church.
Probably the most interesting results involved the result of the question of whether individuals were favorable or unfavorable towards the church, with clear differences between groups based on both age and gender.
For example, older individuals (over 55s) were the only ones to have a favorable opinion of the Catholic Church (55% favorable, 44% unfavorable). None of the other age groups surveyed exceeded a 19% favorable rating for the church.
Interestingly, it was the two middle-aged groups, 35-44, and 45-54, that had the most unfavorable views of the church (54% and 58%, respectively.) This indicates a stark generational difference, with the likely prospect for the church that the one supportive generation will be the first to disappear.
Regarding gender, Irish women had a more supportive attitude than men towards the church. 50% of women, compared to 43% of men, agreed that Catholic teachings are still of benefit to Irish society.
When asked “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the statement: I would be happy if the Catholic Church disappeared from Ireland completely” there was again a significant difference between the genders, with 27% of men agreeing compared to just 18% of women.
In regards the abuse scandal two questions gauged public opinion. Those who answered “unfavorable” to the question on attitude towards the church were asked about the specific reason. The highest answer (56%) was “child abuse”.
And finally there was a rather bizarre question:
“In your opinion, approximately what percentage of Irish priests are guilty of child abuse?”
The question is curious since the suggested answers were based on the numbers of priests who have been accused rather than those who are guilty (there is no way, at present, to determine the percentage that are actually guilty of abuse.)
The answers to this question were also presented in a strange way in the survey report – the single figure of 42% of respondents guessing that over 20% of priests are guilty appears to be the combination of four separate answers. Looking at the other figures, it becomes clear why the Iona Institute chose to present the results in this way. The option with the highest score (28%) – that 1-5% of priests are guilty of abuse – is in fact closest to the official accusation rate (4%).
The obvious conclusion is that this is a rather lame attempt to portray the Irish public as overestimating the extent of the level of abusive priests. The reality is that the Irish population has a relatively accurate view of the extent of church abuse and its response to the abuse – and the picture they see is sufficient to condemn the church.
This behavior surely shows the desperation of apologists to whitewash the results of a survey that reveals no good news for the Catholic Church in Ireland, which continues its precipitous decline. Far from being a perennial and unquestionable force, Church, according to the results of this survey, is heading the way of the Irish Elk.