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Latest Census results timely for the church

June 6th, 2023 11:40 AM

By Southern Star Team

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LAST year’s collection of data for Census 2022 is beginning to reveal some interesting statistics. This week the information released included population figures, showing that in 2022 the population of Ireland stood at 5.15m people – an increase of 8% since 2016. 

It was also the first time the population of Ireland was recorded at over 5m since the time of the Famine. Interestingly, since 2016, population growth has occurred in every county.

Under the heading of religion, however, the figures showed a rather surprising statistic. While there were 3.5m people describing themselves as Roman Catholic in 2022, this was a decline of 4% in just six years.

And there were nearly three-quarters of a million people describing themselves as having no religion – approximately 14% of the population.

At a time when all counties are seeing an increase in population, a drop of 4% in the numbers of Catholics must represent something of a wake-up call for the church.

And so it was fitting that it was only last weekend that the future of the Catholic church in the Diocese of Cork and Ross was debated. Bishop Fintan Gavin invited lay people to a gathering in Rosscarbery to discuss what lies ahead for the church.

Since his ordination as bishop in 2019, Bishop Gavin has been moving ahead with a plan to re-organise the diocese, in a bid to ensure the viability of those parishes in an ever-changing world.

He has introduced what some would see as radical changes to the way parishes operate, in the face of a rapidly dwindling supply of priests.

He hasn’t been short of progressive ideas to help combat what can only be seen as a crisis in church attendances and ministers. 

And last weekend, he brought that progressive thinking to the people.

He pointed out in advance of the gathering, which was replicated in Cork city the following day, that the time is now for lay people in the parishes, faith communities and local priests to work closely together in ‘new ways’.

Bishop Fintan Gavin said that this is where an ongoing reorganisation of the diocese is leading.

He invited a married woman and a mother-of-three children to lead the two gatherings in the diocese on the weekend of Pentecost Sunday – the birthday of the Church – to help address the challenges for parishes identified by lay people and clergy at recent meetings. Writing to the priests of the diocese and asking them to invite people to the gatherings from every parish, Bishop Fintan said the road ahead was ‘clear’.

He pointed out that a vision for the local Church was also presented in the pastoral letter Putting Out into Deep Waters – Transforming Parishes Together into Mission-Centred Faith Communities which he had published last summer.

Last weekend, lay members of the Catholic Church were given the opportunity to engage with one another and share experiences. 

Bishop Gavin described it as a time of ‘prayer, reflection and fellowship’ in a bid to ‘build a shared vision for our families of parishes in the diocese’.

While the recent CSO figures showing the dramatic fall-off in support for Catholicism is a result of several factors, some of those factors undoubtedly involve a general lack of trust in the workings of the Church and its leaders in this country.

In the run-up to the highly divisive divorce referendums of both 1986 and 1995, we were told that overturning the prohibition on marriage dissolution would see couples flooding into the courts to avail of it – and the very fabric of marriage would irrevocably unravel.

But, interestingly, the very CSO figures which show a continuing decrease in the numbers of Irish people identifying as Catholic, also show that in the last two Census figures, the divorce rate has remained unmoved – at just 6pc.

There is no doubt that Bishop Gavin has taken on the role at a very challenging time for the church. But, judging by the large numbers which turned out last weekend, there is still plenty of support available to him in that unenviable task.

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