Narratives of religious decline in Ireland are overstated, a leading Church number-cruncher has said, as new figures confirm that Ireland’s young adults practice their Faith in surprisingly large numbers.
Indeed, Irish young adults remain among the most religious young adults in Europe, with around 24% of young people attending Mass weekly, according to the latest figures from the European Social Survey (ESS).
“It’s simply not the case in Ireland that we’ve got a kind of Catholic old generation who are dying off and this bright, new secular generation is taking over. Even among young adults we see that Ireland is extremely Catholic, other than Poland, by any other normal comparison,” Prof. Stephen Bullivant told The Irish Catholic.
Prof. Bullivant, director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, said the ESS, which collated data from 2014 and 2016 statistics, found that the six ‘most Christian’ nations are all historically Catholic-majority countries, such as Ireland and Poland.
Notably, the survey found that 54% of young adults aged between 16-29 in Ireland claim Catholic affiliation as opposed to 22% in Belgium and 10% in the UK. Poland had the highest number of young adult Catholics at 82%.
The survey also revealed that approximately one in 10 young Irish Catholics attend religious services on a weekly basis, excluding special occasions such as weddings or funerals, while 31% of the same category said they pray weekly or more.
Although these figures show that there has been a decline in Mass attendance in Ireland, there certainly hasn’t been a “collapse”, according to Prof. Bullivant.
“This is a generation that has been raised in the sort of new Ireland, post-Tiger – most of them – and they’re still going to Mass in remarkably high numbers and praying,” he said, noting that young adults probably go to Mass less than their parents, but attend far more often than almost elsewhere across Europe.
“We don’t need to over-exaggerate the numbers, the direction of travel isn’t the direction you’d want – there are plenty of challenges around – but we haven’t seen this collapse,” he said.