Pope Francis’ Visit and a Loss of Faith in the Church: Comments in National Catholic Reporter

The National Catholic Reporter, an American publication, has a lengthy profile on Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Ireland: ‘Irish Sex Abuse Survivors say Francis should admit to Vatican’s Cover-up.’ 

Prominent survivors Marie Collins and Mark Vincent Healy are calling on Pope Francis to declare ‘a culture of abuse and cover-up’, as he did in a letter to the people of Chile in May.

Reporter Joshua McElwee’s article is wide-ranging. As well as considering the impact of the visit on abuse survivors, it charts decline in the Catholic Church and religious change on the island since Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit.

McElwee interviewed me for the article about the impact of the scandals on religious practice and other reasons for decline:

Gladys Ganiel, a sociologist and political scientist who has focused her research on the emerging forms of Christianity in Ireland, said the sexual abuse scandals have played a “significant part” in people’s disassociation from the Catholic Church.

“The main effect of the scandals is really that people don’t lose faith in God, they lose faith in the church as an institution,” said the sociologist, author of the 2016 volume Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland.

“There is clear evidence that the scandals have impacted peoples’ perceptions of the institutional church, and even their willingness to go to Mass so often, especially to give money to the church,” said Ganiel, a research fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.

“I think the Catholic Church in Ireland is changing at an unprecedented rate,” she said. “Within the next generation, I think it could be unrecognizable from what we have today currently, or what we had even as short a time ago as the 1980s and 1990s.”

Ganiel, the sociologist at Queen’s University Belfast, said Ireland’s wider disassociation from the Catholic Church stems not only from the effect of the abuse scandals but also from a years-long process of economic and societal modernization in the country.

From the mid-1980s on, successive Irish governments focused on shifting from an agricultural to a knowledge economy, with particular attention on attracting high-tech industry to the island.

Where unemployment was once 20 percent, it was reported at 5.1 percent by the government’s Central Statistics Office in June. The average full-time salary is now 45,611 Euro, according to the latest figures from that office.

“Generally, when there’s a process of modernization that includes more economic prosperity traditional indicators of religiosity in terms of church attendance … tend to decline,” said Ganiel. “I think you’ve got those general processes of modernization at work.”

The sociologist, who is co-author of the 2014 volume The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity, said women joining the workforce in greater numbers also affected the church.

“A lot of historians and sociologists would have seen the Irish mother as the main person responsible for passing the faith on to the next generation,” she said. “When women started having fewer children and working outside the home, that mechanism for perpetuating Catholicism broke down as well.”

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