‘A Measure of Faith, Figures for the Future’

A group of 212 young Irish people are surveyed
on their views of the Catholic Church. 

‘Another survey of Irish Catholics, what is the point?’, you ask. ‘We’ve heard it all before’, you say. The point is we haven’t, not like this anyway.

According to the national census figures, released earlier this year, 84% of the people in this country are Catholics. That was the headline statistic released but it is somewhat misleading. There are numerous factors that make it so.

Not least, the other survey, commissioned by The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), which was released in the last few weeks. A survey which showed that the vast majority of Catholics disagree with all of the major stances on morality and lifestyle that the church teaches.

This includes figures on such subjects as homosexuality; where 61% disagreed with the church’s stance that it was a sin. Being gay in Ireland is no longer true taboo territory. Times really are changing.

75% considered the church’s teaching on sexuality, in general, as irrelevant to both them and their families. It revealed that the vast majority believed that priests should be allowed marry (87%).

They showed that Irish Catholics, of all shapes and sizes, also believe that women should be allowed to become priests (77%) and that married men should, too (72%).


These results show that a large portion of this country are closer to being protestant, in terms of beliefs, than we are to being Catholics. You wouldn’t have got away with saying that a generation or two ago, either.

The results of survey done, specifically for this article, consolidate those findings. The survey was aimed at young Irish people with a Catholic heritage, between the ages of 16 and 35. The sample size is of 212 people, who fit those two criteria.

The figures do not just show that the zeitgeist is one of rebellion, they show that it is one of disregard and hostility towards the church. The disregard is not absolute, but it is close. There is confusion, disillusion balanced out with a sprinkling of good will.

The ten questions asked aimed to fill in the blanks left by the national census and the ACP survey. Although, it is only ten questions long, it is not merely a ‘tick box’ and raw statistics survey.

Large essay boxes were left on relevant questions for participants to comment on, if they wished. And boy, did they comment.

Young Catholics’ views are often dismissed, by those of a more senior demographic, as cynical and as somewhat irrelevant. If they don’t deem them irrelevant, then they are effectively simply ignored.

They may be cynical, but that does not mean they do not have valid points to make. Most of the young people who did this survey are in, or have received, third level education. 90.1%, to be precise.

Over one in four (26.1%) are post-graduates of some description or another; in other words they are doing or have done a higher diploma, a masters or a doctorate. So the responses are not coming from a place of ignorance or stupidity.

As for the irrelevant bit. Nothing could be further from the truth. These young people are the future of both this country and the Catholic faith in it.

They are the ones who will be, and in some cases are, raising children. These young, highly educated people will be the ones guiding both this country and the next generation of potential Catholics, in a decade or thereabouts.

In turn, those children will pass on what they have learned to their own children. In short, these figures are very, very relevant.

On that score, only 26.3% of those asked said they would willingly bring their children up in the Catholic Church, as things stand. 44% said that under no circumstances would they do so. The rest is made up of those who attached terms and conditions to any involvement in the church for their children.

23% said they might bow to extenuating circumstances, such as pressure from a spouse or to attain access to education. 6.7% said they might depending on changes within Catholicism.

Why the resistance, though. What are their views on the Catholic Church and its influence throughout the world. For the full picture, you should look at the figures on your left.*

The respondents were given seven different facets of the world that the Catholic Church has played a role in, and a scale ranging from very positive to very negative, along with ‘no effect’ and ‘don’t know’. For the most part, the two latter options had very a limited amounts of ‘ticks’.

The general trend of negativity continued on this question. Worryingly, for those inside the church, none of the categories, or facets of life, were considered to better off due to church’s involvement.

Asked about the overall effect on Irish society, only 17% consider the church as having any sort of positive effect. A large majority (66.8%) ticked somewhere in the negative field.


There was a more even split in opinion about the church’s overall effect in the both morality, family life and the developing world.

37.9% said the church had an overall positive effect on morality, and 38.6% considered its effect negative. There was a respective split of 34.8% (positive) versus 44.3% (negative) for family life.

Even their endeavours in, and effect on, the ‘Developing World’- long considered a feather in their hat- were considered negative. While 35.3% saw the effect as positive, a larger amount, 46.6%, regard them as a negative force. The largest number by some distance, 25.2%, ticking the ‘very negative’ field.

The response for those who ticked somewhere within the negative field for ‘the Developing world’ category did not stop there. A large amount of the essay answers, for this ‘Overall effect’ question, pointed to the church’s responsibility in the AIDS epidemic sweeping across Africa.

That and the church’s hypocrisy and inconsistencies when it came to wealth. To paraphrase one person ‘they claim to help the poor, while they sit in palaces and mansions’.

The split is widened again on the overall effect on global society (19.4% positive versus 56.9% negative); and the history of civilisation (18.7% positive vs. 60.4% negative).

A topic which is very current, at the time of writing, is education. Asked what they thought about the Catholic Church’s effect on the education; 50.9% considered it negative and only 33.4% considered it positive.

The majority of participants seem thoughtful about this question in particular, they did not choose lightly. As one respondent put it “I think some may see my choices and think this is someone completely anti-religious, just clicking very negative on everything but I honestly thought about them all and see it this way. It simply comes down to the anti-gay rights, child abuse, anti-condoms and, literally, one-hundred and one other reasons.”

“[The church] is definitely bad for the history of civilisation. For example, The Crusades and all other atrocities carried out by the church, just look at a history book to see. Their grip on education in Ireland is a disgrace. The one thing that stopped me from wanting to become a teacher, is all the Catholic bullish*t I would have to teach and comply to.”

The simple statistics do not show a complete picture. Several essay responses listed good along with the bad, and others listed mainly good effects, with some caveats. There are frequent displays, in those essay-answers, of an acknowledgement of grey areas. However, the arrow-gauge is tending strongly to the negative side.

One young woman says, “I have spent some time in Africa and there is definitely a huge impact of the Catholic Church there, particularly in terms of schooling and healthcare, which I would consider to be positive. However, in those societies where there is a mix of religions, and the Catholic school provides education for Catholic children only. Such ‘positivities’ become blurred.”

Some answers just how mixed they considered the good and the bad “
Catholicism has provided education, aid, charity, relief and medical help to millions of people over its time. It has also excluded many groups and still does.”

“It has done horrible things – Inquisitions, Magdalene laundries, forced adoption in places like Australia, etc. – over its time. Some of these were orders from the top, some were covered up by higher ranks in the church, and some were rouge actions of bad people who shouldn’t be painted with the same brush as good, honest priests, nuns and religious workers.

However, there are a litany of answers, percentages and detailed essay-style responses like that in this survey; not many of which point to an illustrious or promising future for the Catholic Church. The least that is desired is change.

If there is one positive, it is that a number of this generation are potentially salvageable; but the church need to get to know its intended audience. It also will need to learn this generation’s own definitions of ‘confession’, ‘repentance’, ‘sin’, ‘cleanse’ and ‘humility’, amongst others in order to reclaim any of the territory lost .

Only 14.2% of those asked consider themselves practicing Catholics. That number is decimated further on a following question, to 1.4%, to those who say they are strict, practicing Catholics. That is three young people out of two-hundred and twelve.

The highest figure belongs to atheists, 29.9%, followed by non-practicing Catholics at 18.5%. Overall, the non-religious categories sweep up 48.4% of respondents. Lapsed Catholics (7.1%) and agnostics (14.7%) make up most of the rest.

That following question- which points to only 1.4% of strict, practicing Catholics- is a further attempt to breakdown respondents actual beliefs. There are eleven options here with the ability to pick more than one where applicable.

For example, it differentiates between those ‘call themselves Catholic and don’t believe most of it’ (22.7%); those who ‘agree with most of what the Catholic Church teaches and practice accordingly’ (7.1%) and those who ‘pick and choose what parts [they] agree with, practice those parts and still consider [themselves] a Catholic’(19%).

There are signs in this question that there is not quite as much cynicism as some people would like you to believe, not towards the concept of ‘something more than this life’ anyway. 20.9% people consider themselves spiritual and 12.8% believe in ‘a supreme being but not the Catholic God’. One person who did the survey had found a religion that suited them better, i.e. the Church of Ireland.

In light of such a varied spread of faith, accrued from this small survey, it surely points to a mark of ‘incomplete’, at the very best, for the national census. The lack of questions on religion, there was only one, its lack of detail and their structure need reconsideration for any worthwhile information to be garnered from the census.

A survey with such a large reach could give us the whole picture, with just a little imagination. The status quo of asking somebody what religion they are, is quite vague. The term ‘Catholic’ means different things to different people, as you can see above.

There are other factors to be considered, as well. Anecdotally, there are reports from young Irish people who complain that their parents completed their section of the survey for them; that they put them down as Catholics, when they no longer consider themselves so.

In any case, there is clear anger, disillusion and confusion at the poor leadership shown by Catholic Church amongst the youth of Ireland today. If you do not believe it based on this survey, base it on the atmosphere. You can sense the change.

This younger generation is not scared to question and point the finger at religious authority. They are a smart and irreverent bunch. They demand both consistency and elasticity. They abhor opacity and hypocrisy.

A full and unrestrained apology for the child abuse scandals, that have swept this country and the world, is top of the list. A radical change in their views on women, contraception, homosexuality and a number of other ‘created’ sins is the only thing that will make them truly relevant to this generation.

If you don’t believe that, just read all the responses from the survey on today’s website.*

If they don’t get their apology and reforms, a large percentage will walk away for good. If you don’t believe it, just wait and see.

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