Catholic Influence in Ireland Is Waning At Record Levels
Few were surprised at the population of Ireland voting to overturn an abortion ban. Even though there was substantial opposition from the Catholic Church, this did not influence the vote. How does a country that only seven years ago had nearly 70 percent of its population declare themselves Roman Catholic ignore the heeding of the church?
Most experts point out the sexual abuse scandals of the last 15 years as the main reason for a loss of faith in Catholic priests. The scandals were a factor. A recent poll has only 47 percent of Ireland identifying as Catholic. The cover-up and refusal for quick action created mistrust within the population of Ireland.
The eroding participation in the church is not a sudden shift but rather a slow slide over decades. In 1973, Ireland approved contraception. Divorce was accepted, the Catholic Church was no longer able to run the state school system entirely, and abortion was passed in some instances. All of these events happened before the sexual abuse scandals.
There are possibly two significant factors that caused this. First was Vatican Council II. This was a meeting of the higher authorities within the Catholic Church that was designed to clarify rules of the church. The decisions created confusion and some exasperation for parishioners. It affirmed that the papal authority was overruling any decision that was made by local priests. This upset Irish Catholics because it dismissed reformers in the church and took a more conservative stance.
This connected to the second primary reason, modernity. The teachings of the Catholic Church became less relevant as the social status of women, LGBTQ, and sexuality became more liberal. Economic modernization improved the economy of Ireland, leading to less young men interested in looking for becoming a priest for a secure future.
While only 30 percent of Irish citizens regularly attend church, it doesn’t automatically mean Catholics will disappear from Ireland. While religion can generally be diminished, it is difficult to eliminate it. It is estimated that one-third of the support for the abortion decision came from Catholics. This could be a separation of faith of politics. Voting for abortion does not mean someone has given up confidence in their religion, but perhaps redefined it. With Pope Francis giving a different take on Catholicism, this could match the changing nature of the church.