Irish Catholics "favour radical church change"


IRISH Catholics are more favourable to radical changes in the church, such as married and women priests, than Catholics in other traditional church strongholds like Poland, Italy, Spain and the Philippines. They also favour change more than US Catholics.

This is the finding of an attitude survey among Catholic lay people in six countries by two US Catholic sociologists, Father Andrew Greeley, a professor at Chicago University, and Dr Michael Rout, of the University of California.

One of the questions put was: "Would you like the next Pope to be more open to change in the church or do you think things are OK the way they are?"

Some 79 per cent of the 500 Irish Catholics polled wanted a Pope who would be open to change, compared to 74 per cent in Spain, 65 per cent in the US, 56 per cent in Poland, 51 per cent in Italy, and 48 per cent in the Philippines.

Similarly 82 per cent of Irish Catholics polled were in favour of married priests, compared with 79 per cent in Spain, 69 per cent in the US, 67 per cent in Italy, 50 per cent in Poland and 21 per cent in the Philippines.

On women priests, Spanish Catholics came out slightly ahead of their Irish co religionists, with 71 per cent and 67 per cent respectively in favour. Some 65 per cent of US Catholics polled wanted women priests, but only 18 per cent in the Philippines.

The two sociologists asked a representative sample of Catholics in the six countries seven questions: the other four were on priests and people being able to elect their own bishops; lay people having more of a voice in the church by, for example, serving as papal advisers; giving more power to local bishops; and whether a future Pope should be more concerned about ordinary people's lived or religious issues.

In an article about their findings in the current issue of the English Catholic journal the Tablet Father Greely and Dr Hout write: "The most reform minded countries are - hold your breath! - Spain and Ireland. These two very Catholic countries want, change more than any of the others. Each of the seven reforms gets support from more than 58 per cent of Catholics in Spain and Ireland."

Irish Catholics come top in wanting a reform minded Pope, and favouring married priests and papal lay advisers. Irish Catholics under 40 and those with third level education also topped the polls for their groups on electing bishops.

Father Greeley said yesterday he had been particularly struck by the Irish support for married and women priests, reforms the Vatican was "adamantly opposed to while Irish people in overwhelming proportions simply dissent".

The Hierarchy's spokesman, Bishop Thomas Flynn, said his first response to the survey's findings was that "Ireland is becoming a secular country"

He said the church's job was simply to preach the Gospel, and the Gospel has not changed in the past 2,000 years. It's difficult to preach and live the Gospel. It was difficult in Christ's time - people turned away from him because they found it hard to accept - and it's difficult now.