Catholics' beliefs not always by the Book


More than one in five Irish Catholics do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or that God created the universe, according to the Ipsos MRBI 50th anniversary poll.

It found also that 7 per cent of Irish Catholics do not even believe in God.

When it comes to making serious moral decisions, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of Irish Catholics follow their own conscience rather than church teaching (17 per cent). Almost half of Irish Catholics (45 per cent) do not believe in Hell while almost a fifth (18 per cent) do not believe that God created man.

Mass attendance

On the other hand, 92 per cent of Irish Catholics believe in God, 82 per cent believe in heaven, 80 per cent believe God created man and 84 per cent believe Jesus was the son of God. Seventy-eight per cent believe in the resurrection of Jesus while 76 per cent believe God created the universe.

When it comes to Mass attendance, the poll found 34 per cent of Irish Catholics did so on a weekly basis, with 16 per cent “rarely/never” attending.

Overall, the poll found 90 per cent of respondents described themselves as Catholic, with 2 per cent Protestant, 2 per cent another religion, 5 per cent none, and 1 per cent refusing to say.

Priests and marriage

Fifty-nine per cent associate the word “church” with their place of worship, while 20 per cent think of it as “Ourselves . . . the people of God”. Just 12 per cent see it as “the Hierarchy”. Of those polled, 84 per cent believe priests should be allowed marry, with 7 per cent opposed, while 80 per cent believe there should be women priests, with 9 per cent opposed.

One poll question suggested there were “two main schools of thought regarding how mankind came into being – one being God created man, and the other being Darwin’s theory of human evolution”. Most Christian denominations today see these propositions as complementary, ie that creation was followed by evolution.

The poll found that 56 per cent of all poll respondents (of all or no religion) believe God created man, with 18 per cent believing in evolution. Seven per cent believe in both while 7 per cent believe in neither and 12 per cent didn’t know. Clearly there is confusion here as the poll also found in answer to another question that 80 per cent of Irish Catholics (representing 90 per cent of those polled) believe God created man.

There are some similarities between findings in this poll and those of previous years.

For instance, since 1996 – and despite four statutory reports on clerical child sex abuse in Ireland, (Ferns 2005, Ryan and Murphy 2009, Cloyne 2011) – the number of Irish Catholics who follow their own conscience when it comes to serious moral decisions has remained a steady 78 per cent.

Those who follow church teaching in such cases has fallen just 4 per cent, from 21 per cent in 1996 to 17 per cent now.

What jumps out, though, is the significant drop in weekly Mass attendance, from 55 per cent in 1998 to 34 per cent in 2012, a drop of a fifth in 14 years.

Interesting too is the growth in the number who believe priests should be allowed marry, up from 75 per cent in 1995 to 84 per cent in 2012, and the more substantial drop in those opposed, from 18 per cent in 1995 to 7 per cent in 2012.


Only 17 per cent of 18-34-year-olds attend Mass weekly, compared to 31 per cent for 34-54-year-olds, 57 per cent for over-55s. Still, 87 per cent of 18-34-year-olds believe in God, compared to 93 per cent of 34-54-year-olds and 97 per cent of over-55s.

While 31 per cent of Catholics aged over 55 follow church teaching rather than their own conscience (65 per cent) when it comes to making serious moral decisions, just 11 per cent of those between 18 and 54 follow church teaching.