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Catholicism in Today’s Ireland

Is adherence to Catholicism on the wane among inhabitants of the Emerald Isle?

Are fewer people identifying as Catholic?

The percentage of the Irish population that identifies as Roman Catholic fell by 5.85% between the 2011 and 2016 censuses, with a total decrease of about 13.3% over a 25 year period (since the 1991 census). Taking into account Ireland’s population growth from 2011 to 2016, the total number of Catholics fell by 132,200 (~3.4%) from 3,861,300 to 3,729,100. Moreover, the percentage of those who identified as having no religion grew by 3.96% during this period, with the total number of religion-less individuals increasing by 198,600 (~73.6%) from 269,800 to 468,400, or almost 1 person in 10 of the total Irish population. Approximately 12% of people aged 30-34 state they have no religious adherence, the highest percentage of any age group.

What challenges is the Catholic Church presently facing in Ireland? Why has there allegedly been a “demise of the church”?

The following explanations are commonly given for the “fall of Irish Catholicism”:

  • Child abuse scandals
  • Dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church’s treatment of women
  • Increasing secularization
  • Greater support for reproductive choice
  • Rejection of the church’s involvement in state-funded primary schools and healthcare administration

What might the future bring?

A historic referendum will be held May 25 on repealing article 40.3.3 (known as the eighth amendment), which presently endows unborn fetuses and pregnant women with an equal right to life, effectively amounting to a constitutional ban on abortion. If the Irish people vote “yes” (i.e., in favor of repeal), Leo Varadkar’s government has said it will introduce legislation to allow unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, believing there is enough cross-party support for the bill to then become law.

Ellie is a Political Science and Policy Studies double major at Rice University, with a minor in Politics, Law and Social Thought. She spent the spring of 2017 studying/interning in London, and hopes to return to England for grad school. Academically, Ellie's passion lies in evaluating policies that further the causes of gender equality, LGBT rights, and access to satisfactory healthcare, specifically as it pertains to women's health and mental health. She also loves feminist memoirs, eighteenth-century history, old bookstores, and new places. She's continuously inspired by the many strong females in her life, and is an unequivocal proponent of women supporting women.
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