Catholicism Slips In Popularity In Ireland

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A recent census report from the Republic of Ireland has shown a trend in religious affiliation with citizens identifying as having "no religion" steadily rising and the previously reigning religion of the country, Catholicism, falling in popularity.

The archbishop who would become Pope Paul VI called Ireland the most Catholic country in the world in 1946, according to NPR. Recent surveys, as well as the public's choices in the voting booth, have shown that statement has somewhat lost its shine over the years.

The proportion of Catholics in Ireland fell by almost 6 percentage points between 2011 and 2016 when it stood at 78.3 percent, while the number of those saying they had no religion increased by 74 percent, and now makes up 10 percent of the population, reports RTE News.

Those identifying as religiously unaffiliated is expected to continue grow as a crossover of population between Europe and North America continues, according to Pew Research.

In an interview conducted by NPR in 2015, the decrease in Catholic citizens correlates to the rise in scandals from the Catholic church, including those related to the abuse of young children and women. 

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Father Joe McGee and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin spoke about the drop in attendance in Catholic churches and the commitment to the Catholic religion by the people of Ireland.

"For a huge number of people in Ireland now, the church has become irrelevant," McGee told NPR. "I mean, 30 years ago, the culture was that everybody went to some church on a Sunday. Now the culture has shifted. And we have to, in some sense, jettison the hope that one day all our churches will be packed to overflowing again. I don't think that's going to happen."

The groundbreaking report conducted by the National Board for Safeguarding Children, which investigated 325 allegations made against 141 members of six religious congregations for sexual abuse, resulted in few convictions, according to The Irish Times.

Out of those 325 reports, only eight people were convicted.

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Four Dublin archbishops, who have since resigned, were reported to have ignored allegations of abuse from 1975 to 2004.

But changing attitudes are also putting a dent in the number of Catholic faithful.

"The church hasn't been able to bring its teaching and an understanding of that to young people -- not just about gay marriage but maybe about marriage altogether and many other things," Martin told NPR. "Despite the fact that most Irish spend many years in a Catholic school, they come out with a very vague commitment to their faith."

Catholicism's popularity hasn't only dipped due to the Church's legal troubles and sexual abuse scandals, but also because young people have voted contrary to the wishes of the Catholic church on social issues, like marriage equality.

In the Marriage Act of 2015, which legalized same-sex marriage in Ireland, it was stated that Irish churches and Catholic organizations would not be required to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples because homosexuality is not supported by the Catholic church, reports the BBC.

The shift in views has also been seen in the U.S., with social movements for marriage equality gaining momentum. In the U.S., it was a Supreme Court ruling that found the restriction on gay marriage unconstitutional, rather than a vote. Another similarity comes from the sex abuse cover up by the American Catholic Church, which was discovered by investigative reporting in Boston in the 1990s. The reporting exposed decades of abuse and cover ups by the Catholic leadership.

Catholicism in the U.S. has dropped in affiliation by 3 percent, while those who consider themselves unaffiliated has seen an increase of 6 percent, according to Pew Research.

Globally, scandals have plagued the Catholic Church in more than just Ireland and the U.S. While Africa has seen a significant increase in Catholics, according to the BBC, Europe, where scandals have been rampant, saw decreases by more than 10 percent since 1970. Other countries that have had cases of sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic clergy include Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Spain, according to the BBC.

Sources: RTE News, BBC (2, 3, 4), NPR, Irish Times, Pew Research (2) / Featured Image: William Murphy/Flickr / Embedded Images: William Murphy/Flickr (2)

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