If there is one film cliché that comes to mind about the Republic of Ireland, it is that of the gruff but good-hearted Irish Catholic priest. So strongly is that country linked with the church that this news report that a global survey on faith reveals that Ireland is abandoning religion faster than almost every other country world, second only to Vietnam, is worth noting.
An overwhelming 69% of Irish people declared themselves to be “a religious person” in the last survey conducted in 2005, but this has now plummeted to 47%.
Other polls add to the story of a church in decline, a process accelerated by the numerous scandals that have rocked the church there and has led even leading politicians to voice harsh criticisms.
This was most strikingly demonstrated last year when, in an unprecedented attack, Irish prime minister Enda Kenny shrugged off decades of political deference.
He declared: “The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation.” He denounced “elitism, disconnection, dysfunction and narcissism in the Vatican.”
If leading politicians are saying things like this, it should not be surprising if regular citizens take an even dimmer view of the church.
David Quinn, a staunch defender of the faith who heads the Iona Institute, said the findings indicated a significant amount of hostility towards institutional religion. He said this and other polls had found that a quarter of those surveyed “would be happy if the church vanished from Ireland completely.”
Previous polling has indicated that a majority of Irish Catholics are strikingly out of line with the Vatican’s attitude on issues such as priestly celibacy and the introduction of women priests. Almost 90 per cent believe that priests should be free to marry, with over 70 per cent saying they believe married men should be ordained.
This must be causing extreme concern in the Vatican. But not to worry, Papa Ratzi knows exactly how to deal with this.
Rome’s reaction to criticism from Irish priests has been authoritarian. One priest with liberal views was ordered to a monastery to “pray and reflect” while another was prohibited from writing on such issues.
After all, that policy of cracking down seems to be working so well with the US nuns.