Feb 1st, 2008 | By | Category: Ministry

Back in September 2006, the Irish Times ran the findings of a poll it had conducted regarding the attitudes and lifestyles of the 50 + Generation. The poll found that 90% of them were still faithful, practising Catholics.

The commentary on the poll results made no mention of how strong the Catholic Church remained, so I wrote to the Irish Times, the letter appeared in the edition of 13th September 2006.


As an English Protestant only resident in the State for the past seven years, the thing I found most striking in your 50 + Poll was the resilience of the Catholic Church. Despite the scandals caused by those who betrayed the sacred trust placed in them, despite the constant ridicule and abuse from sections of the media, your poll suggests that 90 % of the 50 + population hold on to their faith.

To an outsider’s eye, the Church seems considerably stronger than some critics have suggested. As well as the 50 + faithful, the large numbers of those under 50 who still attend Mass regularly confound the prophets who believe that the Church is about to curl up and die. Perhaps the Church’s enduring strength derives from the fact that, when it is at its best, it offers an encounter with the sacred and a true sense of community, neither of which can be found in money, no matter how large one’s salary, or possessions, no matter how exclusive the label.

Fifteen centuries ago, as the Roman Empire collapsed and Christendom disappeared from Western Europe, it was the vocation of the Irish Church to remain faithful. As our current Christendom disappears, the opportunity seems to have arisen to again pursue that vocation.

As someone who publicly wishes them well, the news that Cardinal Connell is seeking to block the release by his successor Archbishop Martin of documents concerned with clerical sex abuse of children causes a sense of bewilderment. Surely what matters is not legal technicalities, but simply the truth. Were people abused or not? Were clerics guilty or not? If someone is guilty of a heinous crime, surely arguments about relationships with clients are a secondary matter?

Jesus told his followers, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.'” What’s wrong with that advice today?

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  1. Ian, 90% practising Catholics seems a very high figure, but then ‘Going to church doesn’t make you any more a Christian than going to the garage makes you a car!’

  2. Grannymar,

    It was a 50+ survey, and even if they weren’t completely honest, the church is extraordinarily resilient. I referred back to the letter to make the point that even someone sympathetic feels at a loss at the legal action. This was not about making public disclosure of documents but about making them available to the commission investigating clerical child abuse. I feel very sorry for the many, many faithful clergy who get tarred with a single brush by these scandals.

  3. Ian – what happened to the views of the 50+ generation of C of I members or are there too few of us about for anyone to care?

    Enjoy the weekend of rugby ahead. I’m kicking-off with the (under 20s) Six Nations match tonight (RTE 2 7.30pm) with plenty more to look forward to on Sat and Sun.

    Blogging is playing in the back row this weekend 😀

  4. Hi Steph, I think the little Prod community was not included in the survey. It’s part of the sectarianism of overlooking that I find very common here. I’m fed up with being called a non-Catholic!

    The rugby this weekend could be bleak. The Italians are getting stronger and O’Sullivan is sticking with players who failed in France (though, to be fair, he hasn’t much choice)

  5. Surely cooperating with the commission will vindicate the majority of clergy. I don’t understand the unwillingness to expose those who need to be charged. It seems in Australia that these abuses are only investigate by police after complaints from victims or interested lobbyist. I’m not aware of any enquiry outside the church.

    Maybe the high level of older parishioners still faithful to the church is indicative of their age. Seeking solace into their twilight years (although at 51 I’m hardly a twighlighter!) Maybe the survey sample was very small. Maybe you Irish are more faithful than us heathen aussies.

    Rugby? What rugby?

  6. Ian,

    You rang the bell with my Presbyterian
    husband when you said that you were fed up
    with being called a Non Catholic..

    We even get mail at our house from the parish
    requesting money and the letter is addressed
    to Mrs. R.L. and Mr. R.L. N/C. My husband gets

    The priest should only know how many donations that slur has cost him over the many years we have been

  7. Baino,

    The abuse here was deeply institutional. Alleged paedophiles were sheltered by the church – one such case brought down the Irish government in 1994.

    You may well ask ‘what rugby?’ Ireland were very poor.


    A bit of humility on the part of the hierarchy would carry them a long way. They seem terrified of admitting they get things wrong – it’s as though they think the whole thing would come unravelled if they accepted that the church was fallible.

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