Dublin archbishop urges renewal to counter religious decline

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Celtic Cross on the hill at Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland. Credit: Tom Haymes (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said a recent survey marking a decline in the number of religious Irish shows the “challenges” facing the faithful and the need for renewal in Ireland.

“The Catholic Church, on its part, cannot simply presume that the faith will automatically be passed from one generation to the next or be lived to the full by its own members,” he said Aug. 8.

“This survey is just one further reminder of the need for strong on-going education in the faith.”

The archbishop made his remarks in response to a WIN-Gallup International Poll, which found that the number of Irish who identify as religious has dropped 25 percentage points since 2005.

The analysis also showed that only 47 percent of the Irish population consider themselves religious.

The results indicate that the formerly devout country now ranks 43 out of 57 countries surveyed.

Forty-four percent of Irish respondents said they are not a religious person. About 10 percent of the Irish surveyed said they are convinced atheists, which means the country tied with Austria, Iceland and Australia as the eighth most atheistic of the surveyed countries.

The survey shows a large decline since 2005, when 69 percent of Irish respondents said they consider themselves a religious person. Another 25 percent said they are not religious and 13 percent identified as convinced atheists.

Archbishop Martin said the Catholic Church in Ireland is “far behind” other European churches in forming young people in their faith.

He suggested that religious education in schools has also taken attention from the need for adult religious education that “treats men and women as adults” and addresses their questions in a changing world.

He said the catechetical program “Share the Good News” has had a “very slow” implementation.

Leaders of a two-year apostolic visitation initiated by Pope Benedict announced their findings in March.

The visitation found that “widespread” dissent from Catholic teaching is hindering its renewal. It noted a “fairly widespread” tendency for priests, religious and laity to hold theological opinions contrary to Catholic teaching.

“It must be stressed that dissent from the fundamental teachings of the Church is not the authentic path towards renewal,” said the visitation report.

Archbishop Martin saw some signs of renewal for the Catholic Church in Ireland.

He cited the “enthusiasm and joy” of the thousands of attendees at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress. He said that the upcoming Year of Faith, which begins in October, offers the opportunity to aid a “renewed conversion” to Jesus.

He said many people in the Irish Catholic Church are willing to “take up the challenge” of renewal and are willing to witness to “the hope that comes to them through their faith in Jesus Christ.”

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