A return to paganism or disillusion with the church?
Ireland’s Christian churches blame paganism for the decline of their congregations, but the real reasons are more modern
Will they? Perhaps. At the recent Irish Inter-Church meeting, attended by representatives of the four main Christian churches, the Catholic primate, Cardinal Seán Brady, said, “I’m not breaking any secrets from the conclave when I tell you that with the election of Pope Francis there was a move from the head to the heart.”
The election of Pope Francis has ushered in unexpected hope for all churches. Not since John XXIII has a Christian leader inspired such warmth, whether within or without his own denomination. Even the “pagan” Irish may take notice.
À la carte: Are Catholics becoming Protestant?
One wry online comment on our report last week that a substantial number of Catholic bishops and some priests believe the Irish people “have, to all intents and purposes, become pagan” was that those Catholics were also “probably a la carte pagans”.
It is a phenomenon frequently remarked on that Irish Catholics are increasingly ‘Protestant’ in outlook. This was underscored in a survey of Catholics on the island in February 2012, commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests. It found that Catholic Church teaching on sexuality had “no relevance” for 75 per cent of Irish Catholics or their families. It also established that 87 per cent of Irish Catholics believe priests should be allowed to marry and 77 per cent believe there should be women priests.
As for Catholic teaching on homosexuality, 46 per cent “disagree strongly” while a total of 61 per cent “disagree” with the church. On divorced or separated people in a second stable relationship, 87 per cent believed they should be allowed to take communion, currently not allowed by the church.
On abortion, most Irish Catholics are also in disagreement with their church, which teaches it is wrong in all circumstances. An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll earlier this month found that 75 per cent of people surveyed in the Republic supported the Government’s abortion legislation, currently before the Dáil. Those opposed came to 14 per cent; 11 per cent had no opinion.