With the recent census showing a significant drop in people identifying as Catholic, Dylan O’Neill looks at the meaning behind the figures.
THE results of the most recent Census showed a 5.9% drop in the number of people who identify as Roman Catholic versus the previous Census of 2011. While there is still a large majority identifying as Catholic, 78.3% to be precise, the number of non-Catholics amounts to approximately 132,200 people who no longer share the beliefs of the 1.27 billion Catholics worldwide. This is a surprising revelation, especially considering the involvement of the Catholic Church in Irish history.
Does this latest result indicate a shift in the ideals of the Irish population away from the central dogma of the Church’s ancient text?
In recent years, the Irish population has shown a divergence from the traditions held by the Catholic Church, especially concerning social issues such as marriage equality, views on suicide, and women’s reproductive rights. In 2015, a phenomenal 62% of Irish voters supported the idea of marriage equality, when just two decades earlier, only a narrow proportion of 51% of voters backed the removal of the constitutional ban on divorce. The result of the 2015 referendum was in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality and the role of the family.
“there is a significant amount of people who identify as Catholic, that do not regularly attend mass.”
A distinct generation gap can be seen, with many young Irish people becoming more active in bringing about change in the way their country is being governed. One such issue – suicide – which the Catholic Church have openly condemned in the past, has now been highlighted as a serious issue by young Irish people, and more funding has been called for the improvement of mental health services in this country.
It was only after the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in 1992, that the Catholic Church acknowledged “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” After that the church became more lenient on how it perceived people who die by suicide.
The most recent friction, and another likely cause for fewer people to follow the Catholic ethos, is the controversy over the reproductive rights of people in this country. The Catholic Church has always held a firm stance that all life is considered sacred, and this has been implemented into Irish law since 1983, in the form of the 8th Amendment, which equates the right to life of the unborn to the right to life of the mother, thus creating a constitutional ban on abortions.
Recent political movements such as the Repeal movement have been established to bring about reform in the Irish constitution to provide safe and effective healthcare in this country.
“especially in rural Ireland, religion is a common factor people share which makes integration easier.”
However, these are larger, social issues. At a grassroots level, there remains a large portion of the population who identify as Roman Catholic, but does this statistic accurately report the number of Catholics who regularly attend mass?
The census reported that urban districts such as Dublin City featured the highest percentage of non-Catholics in the country ranging from 20.1 to 34.2%. The Irish Times also predicted that the attendance at mass was to drop by up to a third by the year 2030.
With these current reports, it’s obvious that there is a significant amount of people who identify as Catholic, that do not regularly attend mass. Why is this? Is it that religion is so vapid to this current population that we no longer think to question the beliefs we were raised with, but rather filter them out of our lives? Is it that, by identifying as Catholic, we stand to gain something?
Currently, 90% of primary schools in Ireland are owned by the Catholic Church, with only 90 multi-denominational schools, or Educate Together, schools set up. This allows the Church to select children who have been baptised, for enrolment in schools, over children who do not share the same belief system.
“In recent years, the Irish population has shown a divergence from the traditions held by the Catholic Church.”
Understandably, this influences a parent’s decision whether to baptise their child. However, the Minister for Education Richard Bruton announced back in January, that he had intended to remove this “baptism barrier” in primary schools and provide assurance that children from non-religious backgrounds be given the same educational opportunities as those with a Catholic background.
You cannot deny the appeal of being part of the majority. For people moving into a new area, especially in rural Ireland, religion is a common factor people share, which is something that makes integration easier. This shows in the latest census as Co. Tipperary had the lowest percentage of non-Catholics, with only 12.9% of people identifying as such.
The results of the 2016 Census clearly indicate the shift in the demographic away from the traditional ideals of the Catholic Church. If this trend continues, will the Catholic Church play less of a role in the lives of Irish people or will it make a resurgence in popularity? Predictions in support of the latter do not hold out much hope, with 57% of priests in Dublin being over the age of 60.