Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Irish census reveals marked drop in Catholic numbers

Preparations Continue For Census 2022 - Tipperary Mid West Radio

New Census data for Ireland has shown a substantial drop in the number of people identifying as Catholics, from 3,696,644 (79 per cent) in 2016 down to 3,515,861 (69 per cent) in 2022.

In 1961, 95 per cent of the population identified as Catholic and as recently as 2011 the figure was 84.2 per cent.

The decline in Catholicism is one of the major features of Census2022, which shows that the overall population of Ireland increased to 5.15 million, its highest level since the Famine in the early nineteenth century, and this has mainly been driven by immigration.

Catholicism is still the affiliation of the majority of the population, but the new Census data illustrates how the religious profile of the country is changing rapidly. It shows that the number of people with no religion increased by 284,269 and now stands at 736,210.

The Muslim population in Ireland rose from 63,443 in 2016 to 81,930 in 2022, and other faiths such as Hinduism also recorded increases. However, the numbers identifying themselves as Church of Ireland, the main Anglican Church, showed little change at 124,749 people (two per cent).

Speaking to The Tablet, the primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, said the decrease in the number of people identifying as Catholic is “an issue that we in the Church need to take very seriously”.

However, he admitted the drop was “not a huge surprise to us” and he added, “We are aware of the new Irish – the new people coming here of other faiths and other Christian traditions.”

Despite the large drop in Catholic numbers, Archbishop Martin stressed, that 69 per cent was still a very high percentage of people who are “prepared to identify as Catholic despite the huge secularisation of Ireland and the huge changes in the world today”.

He was speaking after launching The Spiritual Journey of St Patrick by the late Fr Aidan Larkin SSC in Dalgan Park, Co Meath. He said the book by the Columban missionary helped to show St Patrick as a saint for the whole Church and a saint for our times.

As well as being a missionary priest in Chile, Fr Aidan Larkin, who died in 2019, played a leading role in the development of the SDLP and was an councillor and assembly member for the party in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

He was also a barrister who worked as a legal adviser in Brussels to the Council of Ministers. Aged 35, he joined Clonliffe seminary in the Archdiocese of Dublin and later joined the Columban Fathers, committing his life to missionary work, notably in Chile.

His work was published posthumously by Messenger Publications, a Jesuit publishing house in Ireland.

Discussing St Patrick in the context of the latest census findings, Archbishop Martin told The Tablet: “I think in today’s world and in today’s Ireland, where people are searching for certainties and for some sense of direction and for some sense of hope in their lives, it is consoling to know that so many are still finding that in their faith.”

He said St Patrick, though living in a different world, faced many of the same struggles to get his message into a world that was alien to Christianity.

“The book lets us see some of the spiritual struggles that St Patrick had with being accepted in Ireland and being accepted even within the Church, because he faced opposition from within the hierarchy to his mission in Ireland. Yet he remained determined and had a sense that God was with him.”

The archbishop said Ireland’s patron saint was not only a saint for the whole Church, but as Fr Aidan Larkin’s book reminded readers, “St Patrick is a saint for our times” whose life and writings made us conscious of the “evil of human trafficking”.

“We see how Patrick empathises with a whole host of people who nowadays are forcibly moved from their country and their circumstances and have to leave home as refugees or migrants.”

“I think today of a lot of the really good work that is going on in Ireland to prevent trafficking by our religious congregations and other organisations who are highlighting this awful evil. Pope Francis described it as a scourge on the face of the earth.”

He continued: “To think that Christians and people of faith may actually be turning a blind eye to trafficking, which is happening in our own streets and in our own cities.

“The Police Service in Northern Ireland and the Gardaí are very aware that trafficked people are being used and abused here in Ireland and that is something I think St Patrick, if he was here today, would want to waken us up to.”