Poll: Almost half of Irish report unfavorable view of church


DUBLIN — Almost half of Irish people polled say they now have an unfavorable view of the Catholic Church.

Of those with a negative view, three-quarters cite the abuse scandals — the abuse or its cover-up — as a cause. However, 23 percent say that their negative view is due to the church’s history and structures.

The poll, conducted for the Irish religious think tank The Iona Institute, showed that 28 percent of those polled said they had a “very unfavorable” view of the church, while 19 percent said their view was “mostly unfavorable.” Just 8 percent reported that their view of Catholicism was “very favorable,” with 16 percent saying that had a “mostly favorable” view. A quarter had no view either way.

Cardinal Sean Brady, chairman of the Irish bishops' conference, greets churchgoers following St. Patrick's Day Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, Northern Ireland, last year. (CNS)

Fifty-eight percent of those ages 45-54 hold the most-unfavorable view, compared with 46 percent of those ages 25-34.

Overall, 46 percent of those surveyed believe church teaching is still relevant; 55 percent of those who self-identified as Catholics agreed that church teaching is of benefit to Irish society.

John Murray, a theologian at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin, told Catholic News Service that “having an unfavorable view of the church doesn’t necessary mean that person is anti-Catholic per se.”

“The poll indicates that around a quarter of the population can be put in this category. That is quite a high percentage, but given the huge amount of understandable anger at the church because of the scandals, perhaps it is surprising the number isn’t higher than that,” Murray said.

Since 2005, the Irish Catholic church and various dioceses have been the subject of four different independent inquiries into physical and sexual abuse and its cover-up. Irish government officials had strong words about the Vatican, which recalled and reassigned its ambassador.

Irish Catholics are currently awaiting the report of an apostolic visitation ordered by Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican says the report of the visitation — conducted by senior prelates, including Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York — will “assist the local church on her path of renewal.”

The Vatican has announced that it expects to publish an “overall synthesis indicating the results and the future prospects highlighted by the visitation” in early 2012.