Just how Catholic are you? Take the five-point test and see where you stand
As time passes, defining a Catholic – let alone an Irish Catholic – may prove ever more elusive
This survey was conducted exclusively on behalf of The Irish Times by Ipsos MRBI, among a national quota sample of 1,000 representative of the circa 3.4 million adults aged 18 upwards, covering 100 sampling points throughout all constituencies in the Republic of Ireland.
Personal in-home interviewing took place on May 23rd, 24th, and 25th and the accuracy level is estimated to be approximately plus or minus 3%. In all respects, the survey was conducted within the guidelines laid down by the Marketing Society of Ireland, and by ESOMAR.
Extracts from the report may be quoted or published on condition that due acknowledgement is given to The Irish Times and Ipsos MRBI.
FOR MANY years any Roman Catholic who challenged Vatican teaching was labelled an “à la carte” or a “canteen” Catholic. But faith now comes recognisably in different strengths and many Irish believers are comfortable being described as “cultural Catholics” – what would have been a pejorative term 30 years ago.
What exactly does it mean to be a Catholic? Few people aged under 50 would remember the “penny catechism”, a list of doctrinal questions-and-answers children were expected to recite by rote. Fewer still would have opened the weighty Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of church teaching approved by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Yet some basics have always been taken as read.
The textbooks will tell you that you are Catholic if:
1. You believe that Jesus, as the son of God, rose from the dead;
2. You attend church once a week and perform the sacraments;
3. Your belief in the “Virgin Birth” is coupled with a deep adoration for Mary as the mother of God;
4. You accept the “Magisterium”, or teaching authority, of the church, as embodied in its bishops and pope; and
5. You believe the Eucharist contains the “real presence” of Jesus Christ as brought about by transubstantiation, or the changing of bread and wine into body and blood.
Christians of various types are generally happy to accept numbers 1-2, and in the main 3 also. In contrast, Catholics and Protestants have slaughtered each other in religious wars down the ages over numbers 4-5. No small difference then.
In terms of non-negotiables, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has spoken of the necessity, from the Christian viewpoint, for the resurrection to be a fact. If the resurrection never happened and is rather just “a beautiful imaginative creation that offers inspiration”, or merely a nice way of saying “the message of Jesus lives on” then, he admits, Richard Dawkins is right and Christianity is a sham.
From a Catholic Church viewpoint, transubstantiation is a similar line in the sand, representing arguably the one doctrine – forget about celibate clergy – that really distinguishes Roman Catholicism from Protestant traditions. It is not surprising then that the Vatican has voiced increased concern in recent years about Catholics’ appreciation of the teachings of the Eucharist.
There was some controversy in 1992 when a Gallup survey showed just 30 per cent of US Catholics believed they were “really and truly” receiving the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.
Two years later, a New York Times/CBS poll showed 51 per cent of Mass-going Catholics regarded the Eucharist as merely symbolic of Jesus. This proportion rose to 70 per cent among American Catholics between the ages of 18 and 44.
A generational gap is similarly evident in the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, with 44 per cent of Catholics aged 65 and over expressing belief in transubstantiation compared to 18 per cent in the 25-34 year old category.
As for how Catholics themselves define their religion, the latest in a series of Gallup “Catholics in America” surveys showed that 67 per cent rate “helping the poor” as very important, ranking it nearly as essential to their beliefs as the resurrection. Only 30 per cent of respondents in the 2011 poll rated the Vatican’s teaching authority as very important to them.
As time goes on, defining a Catholic – let alone an Irish Catholic – may prove ever more elusive.