New census data in the Republic of Ireland has shown that the proportion of Catholics fell by almost six percentage points between 2011 and 2016, when the figure stood at 78.3 per cent of the population.
The report also reveals that people who say they have no religion are the fastest growing part of the Irish population, with a 74 per cent increase to 481,388 in 2016. The group makes up about ten percent of the population, and has an average age of 34 years.
The impact of the ‘new Irish’ is indicated by the sizeable proportion they play in the overall Catholic population. People born outside Ireland account for 12% of the total number. The overall population of the country in April 2016 was 4,761,865.
Commenting on the changing religious demography revealed by the latest census results, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the figures showed “a significant drop” in the number of those who consider themselves Catholic.
In his homily for the Brazilian community on the Feast of Our Lady of Aparecida, the Archbishop of Dublin said the most significant aspect of the findings was the drop in young people who consider themselves Catholic and the corresponding growth among people of the same age group who registered as having no religion.
Warning that much of the discussion about renewal in the Irish Church focused on structures and the role of priests and religious, Dr Martin said the crisis in the Irish church was not about numbers and structures but about faith and witness to faith.
“None of our structures will survive if we do not find ways of witnessing to faith in Jesus Christ as something vital and attractive for the young men and women of our modern society. The census results indicate that the Church in Ireland is not being successful in that,” he said.
According to the census figures, Church of Ireland numbers decreased by two per cent since 2011, to 126,414 members in 2016, with an average age of just over 40 years, three years above the average for the general population.
Both the Muslim and Jewish populations grew by 28.9 per cent. Other religions to experience significant increases were Orthodox Christians and members of the Apostolic and Pentecostal churches.
The census also revealed that there are 73,208 divorced Catholics in Ireland, of whom 29,900 were males and 43,308 were females.
Catholics had a lower rate of divorce than the general population, 4.1 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent, although the rate has increased since 2011.
PICTURE: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin joins people on the annual Good Friday 'Way of the Cross' procession from the Wellington Monument to the Papal Cross in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.