Ireland – church attendance
Posted by Fr Mark on September 5, 2009
Crisis over collapse of religious practice
From The Post.ie 29.10.06:
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin stunned many Catholics last year when he said in an interview with The Sunday Business Post that Mass attendance had dropped to 1 per cent in parts of his diocese.
Compared to Mass attendance figures of about 85 per cent or more in 1990, the admission reflected the collapse of religious practice in Ireland.
A briefing report published for the Catholic bishops last June claimed that 63.4 per cent of Catholics in Ireland – almost two out of three – attended religious services at least once a week, according to the 2005 European Social Survey.
‘‘In all, approximately 159,300 Catholics attend Mass daily, which is equivalent to almost two full attendances at Croke Park,” added the report.
But the statistics showed a ‘‘significant variation’’ between different age groups and between the regions of Ireland.
In rural areas, weekly Mass attendance was said to be about 78 per cent. This fell to 57 per cent for town dwellers and dipped below 50 per cent in the suburbs of the big cities.
In Dublin, the average was 42 per cent.
The lowest rates of Mass attendance were among people in the 25-34 age range. ‘‘Mass attendance in the more urbanised areas appears to be based on lessening frequency, rather than outright non-attendance,” said the report.
One well-placed source told The Sunday Business Post: ‘‘Too much stress is placed on the decline in practice in some parts of Dublin. Some elements of the media hardly ever refer to the church except by reference to ‘plummeting Mass attendance’.
‘‘But Dublin is not key to what is going on in the rest of the island. The capital is the city which is most affected by secularism and affluence. Outside Dublin, there are many vibrant parishes where the laity play a very active role.”
Apart from declining numbers at Mass, the bishops will also be quizzed about widespread liturgical abuse of varying degrees of significance.
Last Easter, three Co Louth Augustinians concelebrated Mass with a Church of Ireland clergyman. Fr Iggy O’Donovan, Fr Noel Hession and Fr Richard Goode, prior of St Augustine’s in Drogheda, invited Rev Michael Graham, the Anglican rector of St Peter’s, Drogheda, to join them in saying the Mass. The Catholic Church does not recognise the validity of Anglican orders and regards the Church of Ireland as an ‘‘ecclesial community’’, rather than a church ‘‘in the proper sense’’.
The Archbishop of Dublin later expressed regret that the three priests had used the Eucharist as a vehicle for ‘‘individualistic gestures’’ outside the discipline of the Church. Martin said the Eucharist was ‘‘not to be manipulated for personal or social agendas’’.
The matter was reported to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog – which has exclusive powers to deal with those who illicitly concelebrate the Eucharist with non-Catholic ministers. The congregation may impose penalties up to and including dismissal from the priesthood.
The prefect of the CDF, Cardinal William Levada, is aware of the event, which was reported to Rome by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto. Levada will discuss the proposed penalties with the Archbishop of Armagh, who investigated the incident.
The collapse of personal confession as a sacrament will also be an issue which concerns the Vatican. At the bishops’ last ad limina – before Martin became a bishop – Pope John Paul insisted on the need for ‘‘personal confession of sins and individual absolution’’.
He reminded the bishops that ‘‘general confession and general absolution are appropriate only in cases of grave necessity, as determined by liturgical and canonical norms’’. But some Irish priests now organise general confession services, telling Catholics that they don’t need to confess serious sins individually.
Martin will have to explain why he allows the use of general confession in his diocese, despite papal warnings not to do so.
Irish Catholicism: The numbers
The latest statistics indicate that there are 4,155,368 Catholics on the island of Ireland.
The biggest diocese, with 1,087,285 Catholics and 200 parishes, is Dublin. The smallest, with just 34,826 Catholics in 23 parishes, is Achonry in the west of Ireland.
Altogether, the church runs 2,642 parishes north and south of the border.
While the number of baptisms increased between 1999 – the date of the last ad limina – and the latest figures in 2004, the number of First Communions, Confirmations and marriages fell.
Baptisms went from 61,063 in 1999 to 65,480 in 2004. But the number of First Communions dropped by 30 per cent, from 68,132 to 47,931. Confirmations were also down, from 74,282 to 65,358, indicating a continuing fall-off in religious practice as children grow older.
The number of church marriages between Catholics also dropped, from 16,552 to 15,845, though the number of ‘mixed marriages’ between Catholics and non-Catholics rose from 1,335 to 1,627.
The Catholic Church has more than 4,000 schools – 3,532 at primary level and 810 secondary schools – with more than 370,000 primary students and more than 280,000 at secondary level.