Sunday, 01 April 2012 09:00

CATHOLICS AND THE IRISH CENSUS

Catholics Standing Up And Being Counted

Posted on 31. Mar, 2012, Irish MSC website

Almost 9 out of every 10 Irish nationals identify themselves as Roman Catholic

Census results reveal that the number of people who disassociate themselves from any creed has risen by 45pc, with the majority being from the Irish community. The overall figure grew by 83,500 to 269,800.” Irish Independent March 30th

There’s no denying that it has been a turbulent few years in the Catholic Church in Ireland. We’ve had a lot we had to deal with and even more to own up to in how we have lived and practiced our faith. One could be forgiven for a sense of despair, especially given the nature and extent of media coverage of the Church. When I looked up the first the results on last year’s Census in Ireland it was with a fair degree of trepidation. Indeed within reading a few words in the leader article in the Irish Independent it would seem that my worst fears were confirmed. But when you actually get down to read the large print of the Census it presents an incredibly different picture about the life in the Catholic Church.

Atheist Ireland's 2011 Census Campaign

Overall there are now 3,861,335 self identified Catholics in Ireland, representing a massive 84% of the Irish population. This is an increase of 179,889, or 4.9 per cent since the last Census in 2006. A number of commentators have pointed out that this is largely due to the arrival of many non-nationals to our shores. However when you analyse the Census responses of Irish nationals only, Catholicism retains an even bigger percentage. Just under 90% of Irish nationals self identify as Catholics. Honestly I was stunned! That 9 out 10 Irish people identify themselves as Roman Catholics today is an amazing figure. This is especially true in light of Atheist Ireland’s ‘Not really a Catholic don’t mark Catholic‘ in the Census campaign last year.

Irish Pilgrims at World Youth Day

But what is it saying to us as a Church?

Firstly I believe it is a reflection of the good work carried out by priests, sisters, brothers and lay people on the ground in their parishes, schools, hospitals, prisons and community centres. It’s a challenge to ourselves as priests that even if we are tempted to lose faith in ourselves and in our Church, the people we serve still believe. There’s been a great deal of talk in the recent years about renewal in the Church in Ireland, but there’s been little sense of what it means or how we can even begin. The results of the Census show us the bedrock upon which we can build. Like it says in 1 Peter 2:5 we are all “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.”

As we look at the state of the country we are challenged by the Holy Spirit to support those who are struggling. How do we really welcome migrants from countries like Poland, Lithuania, Nigeria and from around the world? The marital family still accounts for the vast majority – 70 per cent – of all family units, but divorce rates have increased by 150% in ten years. What are we doing to support couples who are struggling and helping those whose marriages have broken up. Archbishop Nichols of Westminster Archdiocese spearheads a prophetic ministry to those Catholics who are homosexual. Do we have the courage to follow his example and reach out to those who have felt marginalised by their faith?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Whatever happens in our Church, either in Ireland or around the world, it’s really up to us.