Friday, September 23, 2016

Farming Poll 2016: Church faces 'huge wake-up call' from survey

The Irish Examiner ICMSA Farming Poll has brought to light the latest views and opinions on religion and the priesthood among the farming community, reports Noel Baker.

There is widespread backing for Catholic priests to be allowed to marry and for allowing women to be ordained as priests, even among older people, according to an Irish Examiner opinion poll.

Asked whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, 82% of respondents agreed, including 63% who strongly agreed. There was a similar level of support for women priests — 58% strongly agreed.

Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests said the findings should act as a “huge wake-up call” to the Church hierarchy in Ireland.

Of the respondents, 69% said they attended Mass every week, while 53% said religious services had been cut in their area. Just 7% of respondents said they did not believe priests should be allowed to marry, and the results of the poll shows that support for the change is stronger among older people.

The poll was conducted at seven agricultural shows around the country and high levels of support for priests being allowed to marry were registered everywhere bar Bantry, an outlier with just 44% support. Respondents in the town were also most likely to report that religious services had been cut in the area, with 80% of respondents there stating that was the case.

The number of people in the poll who said they attended mass each week rose 7% compared with the corresponding figure in last year’s poll, which also reflected the ageing profile of Mass-goers.

While 45% of those aged 34 and under said they went to Mass each week, more than 80% of those aged over 55 went each week.

Fr McDonagh said that research conducted on behalf of the Association of Catholic Priests four years ago had also indicated strong support for women priests and priests being allowed to marry, and that this latest poll was “a huge wake-up call” for the Church hierarchy here.


“The most interesting thing is here are lay people and people of faith seeing that the present rules are not functioning and want to see a change to allow it to function better,” he said.

“The vast majority of priests are over 64 years of age. How do we minister to teenage boys and girls?”

He said that, in past decades the younger age profile of priests meant they were more directly engaged in parish activities — a situation which had now changed.

“The ministerial demographics reflected the demographics of society — that has completely gone,” said Fr McDonagh.

Recent bishop appointments had not promoted real dialogue on issues such as priests being allowed to marry or women priests, highlighting the difference in views on those issues between the public and hierarchy, he said, adding: “There is a fundamental breakdown between leadership people and their values and where the people are at the moment. This [poll] reflects that.”

He said recent Church initiatives such as the clustering of parishes was not working given the age profile of priests, many of whom were now “overburdened” with duties and responsibilities.

“The clock has been ticking on it for the last 10 years,” said Fr McDonagh. “Unless you set up the institution before it collapses, it will not survive.”

However, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, has said letting serving priests marry or allowing women priests would not be following the Catholic tradition.

Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships, he said he did not see how that could be the next step for the Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church, however, has always had a special role of tradition in terms of the way in which we believe, as Catholics, the Holy Spirit guides the Church,” he said.

“That [women priests] is something that is completely not present in our tradition, in our past, is very difficult to justify.”

The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, has said allowing serving priests to marry or allowing women priests would not be following the Catholic tradition.

An Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll shows the majority of farming families are in favour of women priests and priests being allowed to marry.

The Association of Catholic Priests has also backed both ideas.

Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships, Archbishop Brown said he did not see how that could be the next step for the Catholic Church.

He paid tribute to serving ministers in other Christian faiths, who he said were doing “a very, very good job with tremendous dedication and tremendous expertise”.

“The Catholic Church, however, has always had a special role of tradition in terms of the way in which we believe, as Catholics, the Holy Spirit guides the Church,” he said.

“That [women priests] is something that is completely not present in our tradition, in our past, is very difficult to justify, and for us to understand how the Holy Spirit could ask the Church to do something that is completely opposite of what it was in the past.

“There is always a very strong tradition in the Catholic Church of consistency so I, myself, don’t see, myself personally, how the Catholic Church could arrive at a place where the Catholic Church were ordaining women into the priesthood and the episcopal.

“It’s the tradition: We believe that God speaks to us through scripture, through the Bible but also through the way that Catholics have always lived. Personally I don’t see how that could be the next step for the Catholic Church.”

Regarding married priests, Archbishop Brown said there were many priests who were married, having been married before being ordained. “It is always a possibility. It’s a little unusual in Ireland today that there aren’t any married Catholic priests,” he said.

As for serving priests being allowed to marry, he said given the traditional, unbroken, and constant teaching of the Church, it would not be in favour of that solution.

“A celibate priest, unlike a married priest, can give himself to the Church, to the people of God, to his priestly vocation in a way that a married priest cannot.”

Archbishop Brown said there was something “beautiful, valuable, and fruitful” about a priest who lives with celibacy “in a true, sacrificial way”.

He said: “In the Catholic Church it has always been the case that while married men are sometimes ordained into the priesthood, priests are never allowed to marry, so even the married Catholic priests that we have today — God forbid if their wife went to heaven or goes to God — if his wife dies, he is not allowed to marry again.”

There is widespread support for allowing women become priests and for priests to have the option to marry, according to the results of the Irish Examiner / ICMSA opinion poll.

One notable aspect was the higher level of support among older people, while younger people appeared to take a more conservative view.

While 74% of those aged 34 and under backed the idea of priests being allowed to marry, that was still the age category with the lowest level of support.

Older farm families have no issue with priests marrying, with 80% of those aged over 65 and 85% of those aged 55 to 64 in favour.

The age group with the highest level of support for the idea are those aged between 35 and 44, at 86%.

Men were slightly more in favour of allowing priests to marry than women — 83% support versus 81%.

More than 90% of tillage farmers supported priests being allowed to marry, higher than in any other agricultural sector.

As for the Catholic Church allowing women to minister, it was a similar pattern: 70% of those aged 34 and under supported such a move, but a higher percentage of older farmers backed the idea of women priests, from 75% of those aged over 65, to 87% of those aged 55 to 64. 

While 82% of men supported the idea of women priests, 76% of women were in favour.

Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests, which has been a vocal supporter of both allowing priests to marry and of women priests, said the results showed that the public was ready for changes within the Catholic Church.

The ACP’s views on these and other issues have come under intense scrutiny from Church authorities and Fr McDonagh confirmed that sanctions handed down to founder Fr Tony Flannery by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome were still in place.

Half of all respondents in the Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll attend Mass every week.

The poll results show a higher percentage of people claim to regularly attend religious services compared with a year ago.

However, the ageing profile of many of those attending Mass is evident in figures, which show those over 55 years of age are almost twice as likely to regularly attend Mass as those aged under 35.

While 45% of under 35s and 48% of those aged 35 to 44 say they go to Mass each week, 84% of those aged 55 to 64 say they attend Mass regularly, and 82% of those aged 65 say that they go every week.

There is little difference between the percentage of men and women who claim to attend Mass each week, while those families without an off-farm income are marginally more likely to say they attend Mass each week compared with those who have an off-farm job.

However, half of all those questioned said there had been cuts to the number of religious services in their area, with older people again more likely to state this was the case.

The poll shows 53% of respondents said that services had been cut in their area, versus 31% who said this was not the case in their locality. Men were more likely than women to report that services had been reduced.

As for the age profile, those over the age of 45 were more likely to state that services had been cut in their area than those under 45.

The ‘clustering’ of parishes to address the falling number of priests in service has already been criticised by some, who argue that it deprives some parishes of a resident clergy and can mean a reduced programme of weekly masses.

The Association of Catholic Priests has said clustering also places too much of a workload on priests to cover duties across broader geographical areas.

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