What Irish Priests Really Think? Moncrieff Show’s National Priest Survey 2012

imageThe Moncrieff Show on Newstalk 106-108 FM has surveyed Ireland’s Catholic priests on a variety of issues, ranging from the impact of the clerical sexual abuse scandals, the portrayal of priests in the media, the involvement of laypeople in parish life, the upcoming Eucharistic Congress, and allowing female priests and/or priests to marry.

The results of the survey were released late last month, but I have only just stumbled across them. Unfortunately, the few online headlines about the surveys have focused on the response to just one question: seventy-five per cent of priests said they felt the Taoiseach’s criticisms of the Vatican were undeserved.

For me, focusing on this question (among the least interesting on a survey of 34 questions) is disappointing, as it overplays conflict between church and state at the expense of issues like structural reform of the Catholic Church.

The Moncrieff Show says that 320 priests were distributed a questionnaire, with 114 responding. Again, unfortunately, no information was provided about how the sample of 320 was selected – which raises questions about the representativeness of the results.

By way of contrast, in my School’s survey of faith leaders on the island of Ireland, we sought a complete sample of all faith leaders (achieving this was probably impossible, but we gave it a go!). We located contact details of 4,005 leaders of all Christian denominations and faith ‘minorities’ (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc), of which 1,193 were Catholic.

Disappointingly, for our survey – which focused on diversity, reconciliation and ecumenism rather than matters exclusive to the Catholic Church – the lowest response rate was among Catholic priests (13.5%). The highest response rates came from Methodist (32.7%) and Church of Ireland (22%) clergy.

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has posted the full results of the Moncrieff survey on its website, which could indicate that of the priests who were contacted by the Moncrieff show (and responded to the questionnaire), a goodly number might be involved with or sympathetic to the ACP – which could be described as an association enthusiastic about church structural reform.

For me, the most interesting results are:

Has the handling of abuse cases in the church over the years altered your faith?

23% Yes

75% No

  • My faith has not been damaged – but my faith in the Church has taken a beating.

Gladys’ Comment: This is in line with what I have found in most of my in-depth interviews with (lay) Irish Catholics over the last 3 years, as part of my School’s Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism project.

Do you feel that the church hierarchy understands the work and challenges faced by priests in a modern world?

37% feel the hierarchy understand

61% do not feel the hierarchy understand

2% unsure

Gladys’ Comment: The reinforces the image of an out-of-touch hierarchy …

How do you think the Vatican handled church sex abuse cases in Ireland?

10% Well

63% Poorly

27% Other

  • Appalling treatment of victims. Church institutions were seen as more important.

Do you think lay people should be more involved in the church?

98% Yes

2% No

Gladys’ Comment: Little ambiguity on this response!

Are people in your parish interested in getting involved?

76% Yes

4% No

20% Unsure

  • Not as much as I would like. It takes a tremendous amount of encouraging and urging to get people involved. I am especially disappointed in the lack of interest in opportunities to deepen the understanding of faith.

Gladys’ Comment: For me, 76% is a surprisingly high figure, raising questions about the stereotypical image of Irish Catholic laity as passive bystanders when it comes to their faith. Or it may just reflect that the vast majority of passive bystanders of generations past have simply stopped going to church.

Do you think women should be allowed become priests?

60% Yes

30% No

10% Unsure

  • Women Priests would have a lot to offer in many ways- They are good listeners, more understanding and very sensitive to peoples’ needs. Women priests are doing a great job in other Christian Churches.
  • Why not? The scriptures contain enough evidence of female ministers. St Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit cannot be reined in – at the moment it is clear  to me that the Holy Spirit is saying “enough of a male only priesthood”.

Do you think priests should be allowed marry?

17% No

78% Yes

5% Unsure

12. Do you think if priests were allowed marry the number of people entering the priesthood would increase significantly?

22% Yes

65% No

13% Unsure

Gladys’ Comment: It is interesting that 78% think priests should be allowed to married, but only 22% think that this would increase numbers in the priesthood. This indicates that for some priests at least, this is an issue of principle rather than pragmatism.

Does your bishop actively seek the views of priests, religious and lay people when making important decisions in your diocese?

44% Yes

44% No

12% Unsure

  • No – the new missal would be a good example.
  • Yes. But then he doesn’t listen. Consultation is only a pretence- worse!
  • Not sure. He does not seek my view but he may seek views of others. The Church is not a democracy.

Do you believe that Irish bishops are too subservient to Rome?

67% Yes

31% No

2% Unsure

Gladys’ Comment: Again, this reinforces the image of the Irish hierarchy, out of touch with the local church …

Has your ability to fulfil your duties as a priest been affected by abuse scandals in the church in recent decades?

46% Yes

52% No

2% Unsure

Do you think all priests’ reputations have been damaged by abuse scandals in the church in recent decades?

65% Yes

35% No

Do you feel that priests and the Catholic Church in general are portrayed fairly in the media?

14% Yes

84% No

2% Unsure

  • But why shouldn’t we be? The Irish media also hates women, GAA, the Republicans in the US, the Tories in the UK, immigrants, Africans, travellers and Irish speakers.

Is Irish society ‘anti priest’?

24% Yes

74% No

2% Unsure

Do you think that this is an appropriate time for such a Congress[Eucharistic Congress] in Ireland?

51% Yes

45% No

4% Unsure

  • Again it shows how out of touch the Church is – why do we need a Congress?
  • The church needs renewal. This is an occasion to begin the process.

Are you or lay people in your parish excited about the Eucharistic Congress?

31% Yes

59% No


Gladys’ Comment: The fact that 59% of priests think that people are NOT excited about the Eucharistic Congress is saying something – although I am not yet entirely sure what – about the state of Catholicism in Ireland today.

(Image sourced on flickr photosharing, by Tom Haymes)

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