April 13th saw the release of a new poll: Contemporary Catholic Perspectives. Commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, the survey examined the churchgoing habits of Irish Catholics but also included questions about the attitudes towards modern Church teachings such as those involving sexuality as well as historical Church doctrines, including the rules against the ordination of married or women priests.
In the light of the recent MORI poll commissioned by the Richard Dawkins foundation, revealing UK based Christians often had little in common with the image of a churchgoing individuals who believed the tenets of their religion, the Irish survey likewise reveals a population at some distance from the official doctrines of their professed church.
According to the survey results the traditionally high rates of Church attendance are now a thing of the past for most Irish Catholics. “Just over one in three Catholics (35%) attend Mass weekly or more often. One in five only go for either celebratory and/or religious occasions.”
When provided with four alternatives to increase the number of priests in the Irish church Catholics overwhelmingly answered in favor of allowing a priest to get married or allowing the ordination of women, (87% and 77% respectively saying yes to these options), even more than the choices of allowing the ordination of mature men (72%) or the clustering parishes so that priests could be shared amongst different towns (60%)
Probably the most interesting results, however, are in the area of relationships and sex.
When asked “Do you believe that the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality are relevant to you or your family?” the result reveals that the vast majority of Irish Catholics reject the Church teaching on these subject, with 75% of individuals answering “no”.
Those attending mass at least once a week (43%) and who were in the over 55 age category (39%) were most likely to find the Church teaching relevant.
In the light of the recent hysterical reaction by Christian leaders to the idea of legalizing homosexual marriage, it is interesting to note that when asked the question “To what extent do you agree with the Catholic Church’s teaching that any sexual expression of love between gay couples is immoral?” less than 1 in 5 Irish Catholics agree, again the highest levels of agreement being seen amongst the older age group and those who attend church weekly.
Over 61% of Irish Catholics, on the other hand, reject the Church stance on homosexuality. This number rises to over 68% and 70% amongst those between 25-34 and women, respectively. In addition the Catholic ban on divorced individuals receiving communion is rejected by 87% of Irish Catholics questioned and is only supported by 5%.
These results, from what was until recent decades one of the most highly religious European populations, are clearly getting under the skins of Catholic apologists. David Quinn, head of the arch conservative Iona Institute wrote a hysterical article bemoaning the fact that the questions were too broad in scope:
Do they mean it is totally irrelevant in every respect, or that just bits of it are irrelevant (meaning, one presumes, of no help whatever to them in their day-to-day lives?)
So people who think that the Church is wrong about birth control and homosexuality might, on the other hand, happen to agree with the Church on other aspects of sexuality – therefore they should have answered “yes” rather than “no”?
But which teachings does he mean?
Presumably most parents wouldn’t be too happy to discover that their 16 year old son was about to become a father? Again, the Church would agree with them there.
And if someone found that their spouse was being unfaithful on them, they would be unhappy about that? Yet again, the Church would agree with them.
Well, if we are going down the road of pointing out the blindingly obvious, presumably the Church also agrees that it’s inadvisable to acquire carnal knowledge of hedgehogs (unless, of course, you are one.)
No amount of spin, however, should counteract the point that orthodox Catholic teachings on sexuality are now overwhelmingly rejected by Irish Catholics, as they have been by Catholics in other European states and North America.
This issue is particularly relevant to international atheism as Ireland is currently undergoing a particularly frenzied culture war involving the Catholic Church and its attitude to democracy – specifically in regards the rights of the non-religious.