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DUBLIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - The latest census in Ireland reveals an alarming downward trajectory in the practice of Catholicism but a corresponding rise in the practice of other religions.
In its key findings, Census 2022 reported, "The proportion of the population who identified Roman Catholic as their religion fell from 79% in 2016 to 69% in 2022."
The portion of the population identifying as Catholic dropped from 3,696,644 in 2016 to 3,515,861 in 2022, representing a decrease of 180,783 Catholics.
Meanwhile, the Muslim population in Ireland increased from 63,443 in 2016 to 81,930 in 2022 and the Hindu population more than doubled from 13,729 in 2016 to 33,043 in 2022.
The Protestant Church of Ireland remained relatively stable.
Furthermore, the number of people without any religion rose from 284,269 in 2016 to 736,210 in 2022.
In June 2022, the Irish Examiner reported the number of childless homes in Ireland had grown by over 20% in a 12-year period.
Smaller Irish families and immigration contribute to some extent to the decline in Catholicism and the rise of other religions, but questions persist regarding the role of the Catholic hierarchy in the increasing number of empty pews.
"There are many reasons for the drastic decline in the Catholic population in Ireland," posited journalist Sarah Mac Donald in a recent opinion piece on Census 2022.
"Some are self-inflicted, such as the never-ending litany of scandals concerning clerical and institutional abuse," she added.
Instances of tainted priestly formation, clergy sex abuse and subsequent hierarchical cover-up in Ireland are widespread. Examples include Maynooth's seminary being steeped with homosexual debauchery, Bp. John McAreavey of Dromore stepping down in 2018 amid a gay sex abuse scandal, and the Christian Brothers allocating over $30 million in 2019 to a fund earmarked for clergy sex abuse.
Hermann Kelly, president of the Irish Freedom Party and a faithful Catholic, commented in March on the problem of poor catechesis, telling Church Militant, "The Irish bishops are reaping the results of preaching religious indifferentism for decades."
"They clearly need to start teaching on the uniqueness of Christ and the necessity of belief in Him," he added. "A steady diet of post-Vatican II religious indifferentism and related cultural relativism causes the undermining and destruction of Ireland."
Another contributing factor is the hierarchy's participation in lockdowns and other extreme COVID measures.
Father Jim Murray, a parish priest at St. John's church in County Sligo, also mentioned this in March when he told Church Militant:
As a country, we now have a generation of people who no longer practice their faith except at baptisms, weddings and funerals. During the pandemic, people lost the habit of attending Mass on a weekly basis — combined with the widespread introduction of webcams in churches. For many, it is easier to sit at home and watch the Mass on the television or iPad. The difference is that now those who are going to Church are making a conscious decision and choice.
The extent of the hierarchy's responsibility for the collapse of faith in Ireland is difficult to ascertain, but many of the faithful feel that the hierarchy bears some responsibility.
Ireland is not the only country undergoing a collapse in faith, according to Josef Seifert, a well-known Catholic philosopher, professor and author.
In a recently published open letter to the cardinals and bishops of the world, Seifert urged the hierarchy not to remain silent in the wake of Pope Francis' pontificate.
The philosopher cited several examples of current papal teachings that he believes contradict the Catholic faith. These include Francis' Abu Dhabi Declaration, in which he asserts that God positively wills the diversity of religions and speculates that Hell might be empty, and Amoris Laetitia, in which he appears to deny the intrinsic evil of acts such as adultery.
Seifert implored the cardinals and bishops of the world to raise their voices for the truth and "to move other cardinals to speak the truth opportune-importune, even if this might reveal the terrible crisis and schism in the Church in the midst of which we find ourselves."
In a follow-up interview, the professor expressed his pessimism regarding the current crisis of faith exhibited from the top down.
I am not at all optimistic but truly hopeful that the cardinals and bishops will no longer watch passively the downfall of the Church which only divine intervention can prevent. God wants to use all of us, but especially chooses cardinals and bishops, just as He chose St. Paul to spread the Church and St. Athanasius to save it from Arianism and destruction.
While he insisted that, as promised by Christ, the gates of hell will not prevail against the universal Church, from a merely human perspective Seifert warned of impending doom for some local churches, stating, "I see a terrible danger of a complete collapse of the Catholic Church in many countries, and indeed of its total destruction in some areas of the world."
Considering Ireland one of those potential countries, Mac Donald questioned in her opinion piece, "Is the drop an indication of terminal decline or a natural process of loss in a more secularized and diverse society?"
Regardless of the answer, Seifert and other faithful Catholics yearn for the hierarchy, both in Ireland and universally, to return to Christ's mandate to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) for the salvation of souls.