Organisers of next year’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin – which Pope Francis is expected to attend – will be buoyed up by new research that reveals that Irish people remain among the most religious in Europe.
Despite a fall-off in church attendance, more than one in three Irish Catholics still attend Mass weekly leading one number-cruncher to describe Irish people as “astonishingly religious” by the standards of the western world.
Commenting on the release of new figures from the European Social Survey (ESS), Prof. Stephen Bullivant told The Irish Catholic that “Ireland being remarkably religious once you look at any other western modern nation really does stand out.”
The survey found that in 2016, 36% of Irish adults still attended a religious service at least once a week, this figure being only slightly down on the 2014 figure of 37% and second only to Poland among the 18 countries surveyed. The ESS, which is one of the biggest surveys of social attitudes across Europe, is conducted every two years.
Across the 18 countries surveyed, the percentage who attend religious services at least once a week was 12.8%.
Prof. Bullivant, who is director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, said there are two very different ways of looking at the data.
“If you compare it to Ireland 30 years ago, there’s obviously a significant decline there, but if you compare Ireland to any other modern western country, it’s astonishingly religious,” he said.
“It’s perfectly natural for people in the Church in Ireland to see decline,” he continued. “But from anybody on the outside, the remarkable story is how long Irish religiosity – especially for an Anglophone society – has held up.”
According to the 2016 survey, 26.3% of Irish people claim not to belong to any particular religion or denomination, a slight increase from the 2014 figure of 25.2%, while the number of Irish people who say they pray at least once a week has dropped from 60% to 55.3%.
Even these figures compare favourably to Ireland’s neighbours, where the average number of people across the 18 countries saying they belong to a religion is 43.4%, with just 30% of people praying at least weekly.
Prof. Bullivant added that even people in Ireland’s least religious age group, those aged 15 to 34, are more likely to adhere to and practice their religion than almost any of their peers in Europe.
“Even if you’re looking at the youngest generation who are notably less religious than parents or grandparents, compared to their peers they are remarkably religious,” he said, adding that “to have got this far into the 21st Century with economic growth etc, and to still be so religious is remarkable”.