While 84 percent of Irish people self-identify as Catholics, support for key Church teachings is at an all-time low.
During a meeting at the Vatican in 1946, Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini—the future Pope Paul VI—told Ireland’s ambassador to the Holy See, “You are the most Catholic country in the world!” The latest figures from the country’s census show that, in some respects at least, Ireland remains an overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Bucking a trend all across Western Europe, the census recorded that the Catholic population in Ireland rose by around 5 percent from 2006-2011. Eighty-four percent of Irish people now describe themselves as Catholic.
That headline figure, however, masks a Church in deep trouble, with many of her priests appearing to no longer hold the Catholic faith. This fact was noted in the report of the recent Apostolic Visitation to Ireland, which mentioned a “certain tendency, not dominant but nevertheless fairly widespread among priests, religious, and laity, to hold theological opinions at variance with the teachings of the Magisterium.”
“This serious situation requires particular attention, directed principally towards improved theological formation,” the visitation report said, going on to point out that “it must be stressed that dissent from the fundamental teachings of the Church is not the authentic path towards renewal.”
Underlining the problem, a recent survey of Irish priests found that 60 percent of respondents wanted the Church to change its teaching to permit women priests. Just 30 percent of priests surveyed supported the Church’s teaching on this crucial issue.
One priest insisted that “women priests would have a lot to offer in many ways. They are good listeners, more understanding, and very sensitive to peoples’ needs.”
“Women priests are doing a great job in other Christian churches,” he insisted.
In the same survey, 78 percent of surveyed priests said they thought Catholic clergy ought to be allowed to get married. Sixty-seven percent said they felt Irish bishops were “too subservient” to the Holy See.
Perhaps exposing a fault line, however, 96 percent of those priests who responded had been ordained for more than 10 years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that younger priests are, by-and-large, more orthodox.