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Francis survey revealing

Second Reading

Indifference trumps anger about abuse as reason for not attending papal visit

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

How was the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland for you? Did you attend any of the events? Did the wet weather keep you at home? Were you put off by the long walk to the ceremonies at Knock or the Phoenix Park and the welter of health and safety instructions? Did the Pope do enough to respond to the dark legacy of the clerical and religious sexual abuse of children? What effect, if any, will the visit have on the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland?
These are some of the questions asked in a Queens University, Belfast, survey of the visit. Dr Gladys Ganiel, who is research fellow of the ‘Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Security and Justice’ at the college, conducted the survey.
She is particularly interested in contemporary Irish Catholicism. In her book, ‘Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland: Religious Practice in Late Modernity’, she argues cogently ‘that a dominant traditional form of Catholicism’ is in decline. This is the Catholicism ‘that was a defining characteristic of Irish national identity that had a monopoly on the Irish religious market, had a strong relationship with state power, elevated the status of the cleric to extraordinarily high levels and emphasised the evils of sexual sin’.
The arrival of modernity to Ireland from the 1960s, broke the hold and the mould of traditional Irish Catholicism. In retrospect, it can be argued that the papal visit of John Paul II in 1979 was its last Árd Fheis.
The survey took place in late September. Eight-hundred-and-forty-one respondents took part in it, and 64 percent identified themselves as Catholic.
Dr Ganiel concludes that, “Francis’ visit to Ireland has revealed a lot about how people in Ireland think about the Catholic Church. Even a pope as popular as Francis cannot distract from the widespread dismay about the way that the Church has handled clerical sexual abuse. At the same time, this survey shows clear evidence that Francis’ pontificate has had a positive impact on a significant minority of people’s perceptions of the Catholic Church, both since his visit to Ireland and since he became pope in 2013.”
The survey indicates that 80 percent of the respondents did not attend any events of the papal visit, for different reasons. Of these 50 percent said that they were not interested, while 30 percent claimed that the deciding factor was the Church’s handling of the clerical abuse scandal.
For 39 percent of the practising Catholics, the main reason they stayed away from the events was because the travel and walk were too onerous; 22 percent said they were not interested and 18 percent were deterred by the abuse issue. So Dr Ganiel makes the point that on this evidence, “For all respondents except practising Catholics, indifference seems to have trumped anger about abuse as a reason for not attending – although abuse is still the next most significant factor.”
Other findings include that for 31 percent, the visit had been ‘a healing time for victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse’, while 36 percent disagreed and 24 percent said neither or had no opinion.
For 23 percent, the visit had been ‘a healing time for LGBT people and their families’, while 40 percent disagreed and 37 percent said neither or had no opinion.
For 66 percent, their opinion of the Catholic Church has not changed since Francis became Pope in 2013, while 22 percent said their opinions had become more favourable.
For 50 percent of respondents, the visit was good for the Irish Catholic Church and the nation, while 75 percent of practising Catholics made a similar point.
Dr Ganiel will provide a fuller analysis of the survey in ‘Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion’ to be published next year.