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The Catholic Church in Ireland is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, the Christian Church with full communion with the Pope, currently Benedict XVI. The Catholic Church in Ireland, with its primatial seat in Armagh, ministers to Catholics in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, the Roman Curia, and the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. 84.2% of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland and 43.8% of the estimated workforce of Northern Ireland are Catholic.
The early Church practised what is now called Celtic Christianity, a variant suited to local conditions. A more regular diocesan system developed after the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111. Following the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1171 a greater number of foreign-born prelates were appointed. A confusing but defining period arose during the English Reformation in the 16th century, with monarchs alternately for or against Papal supremacy. When the church in England broke communion from the Roman Catholic Church, all but two of the bishops of the Church in Ireland followed the Church of England, although almost no clergy or laity did so. The new body became the State Church, assuming possession of most Church property (and so retaining a great repository of religious architecture and other items, though some were later destroyed). The substantial majority of the population remained strongly Roman Catholic, despite the political and economic advantages of membership in the state church. Despite its numerical minority, however, the Church of Ireland remained the official state church until it was disestablished on 1 January 1871 by the Irish Church Act 1869 that was introduced by Gladstone's Liberal government.
After the defeat of King James II of England in 1690, the penal laws were introduced which discriminated against Roman Catholics. The slow process of reform from 1778 led on to Catholic Emancipation in 1829. By then Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Alongside the church itself, many Irish devotional traditions have continued for centuries as a part of the church's local culture. Holy relics are thought to possess curative powers (through the intercession of the saints), colourful "patterns" (processions) in honour of local saints continue to this day, and in 1985 thousands gathered to pray during the moving-statues phenomenon. Marian Devotion is a central element, focused on the shrine at Knock, where it is claimed the Virgin Mary appeared in 1879. Feasts and devotions such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854) and the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1642), and the concepts of martyrology are still important elements. Respect for mortification of the flesh has led on to the veneration of Matt Talbot and Padre Pio, and claims of miracles are investigated.
The Church is organized into four ecclesiastical provinces. While these may have coincided with contemporary 12th century civil provinces or petty kingdoms, they are not now coterminous with the modern civil provincial divisions. The church is led by four archbishops and twenty-three bishops; however, because there have been amalgamations and absorptions, there are more than twenty-seven dioceses. For instance, the diocese of Cashel has been joined with the diocese of Emly, Waterford merged with Lismore, Ardagh merged with Clonmacnoise among others. The bishop of the Diocese of Galway is also the Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora. There are 1087 parishes, a few of which are governed by administrators, the remainder by parish priests. There about 3000 secular clergy—parish priests, administrators, curates, chaplains, and professors in colleges. The Association of Catholic Priests is a voluntary association of clergy in Ireland that claims to have 800 members.
There are also many religious institutes, which include: Augustinians, Capuchins, Carmelites, Fathers of the Holy Ghost, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Marists, Missionaries of Charity, Oblates, Passionists, Redemptorists, and Vincentians. The total number of the regular clergy is about 700. They are engaged either in teaching or in giving missions, but not charged with the government of parishes.
Two societies of priests were founded in Ireland, namely St Patrick's Missionary Society with its headquarters in County Wicklow and the Missionary Society of St. Columban which is based in County Meath.
As well as numerous religious institutes such as the Dominicans, there are many Irish Catholic-ethos laity groups including the:
Other organizations with Irish branches:
Initially inspired largely by Cardinal Newman to convert the colonized peoples of the British Empire, after 1922 the church continued to work in healthcare and education what is now the Third World through its bodies such as Concern and Trócaire. Along with the Irish Catholic diaspora in countries like the USA and Australia, this has created a worldwide network, though affected by falling numbers of priests.
In both parts of Ireland, Church policy and practice changed markedly after the Vatican II reforms of 1962. Probably the largest change was that Mass could be said in vernacular languages instead of Latin, and in 1981 the Church commissioned its first edition of the Bible in the Irish language.
Several reports detailing cases of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of hundreds of children while in the pastoral care of dozens of priests have been published in 2005-2009. These include the Ferns Report and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, and have led on to much discussion in Ireland about what changes may be needed in the future within the church.
The Catholic Church has had a powerful influence over the Irish Free State (1922–1937), that has diminished in recent decades. The Church's influence meant that the Irish state had very conservative social policies, banning, for example, divorce,[note 1] contraception,[note 2] abortion, pornography as well as encouraging the censoring of many books and films. In addition the Church largely controlled the State's hospitals, schools and remained the largest provider of many other social services.
With the partition of Ireland in 1922, 92.6% of the Free State's population were Catholic while 7.4% were Protestant. By the 1960s, the Protestant population had fallen by half. Although emigration was high among all the population, due to a lack of economic opportunity, the rate of Protestant emigration was disproportionate in this period. Many Protestants left the country in the early 1920s, either because they felt unwelcome in a predominantly Catholic and nationalist state, because they were afraid due to the burning of Protestant homes (particularly of the old landed class) by republicans during the Civil War, because they regarded themselves as British and did not wish to live in an independent Irish state, or because of the economic disruption caused by the recent violence. The Catholic Church had also issued a decree, known as Ne Temere, whereby the children of marriages between Catholics and Protestants had to be brought up as Catholics.[note 3] After the end of World War II, the emigration rate of Protestants fell and they became less likely to emigrate than Catholics - indicating their integration into the life of the Irish State.
Fewer than one in five Catholics attend Mass on any given Sunday in Dublin with many young people only retaining a marginal interest in religion, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said in May 2011. In some areas less than 2% of the Catholic population attend Mass. According to an Ipsos MRBI poll by the Irish Times, the majority of Irish Catholics do not attend mass weekly, with almost 62% rejecting key parts of Catholicism such as transubstantiation.
In the Irish Free State the church had a great influence on public opinion, as it had supervised public education for about 90% of the population since at least the 1830s. Historically it was associated with the Jacobite movement until 1766, and with Irish nationalism after Catholic emancipation was secured in 1829. The church was resurgent between 1829 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869-71, when its most significant leaders included Bishop James Doyle, Cardinal Cullen and Archbishop MacHale. The hierarchy supported the democratic and mainly non-violent Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, and its offshoots, and the policy of Irish Home Rule in 1886-1920. It did not support the Irish republican movement until 1921, as it espoused violence, in spite of support from many individual priests, and opposed the anti-Treaty side in the Irish civil war. Despite this relative moderation, Irish Protestants were concerned that a self-governing Ireland would result in "Rome Rule" instead of home rule, and this became an element in (or an excuse for) the creation of Northern Ireland.
The church continued to have great influence in the newly formed Free State. Éamon de Valera's 1937 constitution, while granting freedom of religion, recognised the "special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church". Major popular church events attended by the political world have included the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and the Papal Visit in 1979. The last prelate with strong social and political interests was Archbishop McQuaid, who retired in 1972.
After independence in 1922, the Church remained heavily involved in health care and education, raising money and running institutions which were staffed by Catholic religious institutes, largely because the new state remained impoverished. Its main political effect was to continue to run schools where religious education was a major element. The hierarchy opposed the free public secondary schools service introduced in 1968 by Donogh O'Malley, in part because they ran almost all such schools. Some have argued that the church's strong efforts since the 1830s to continue the control of Catholic education was primarily to guarantee a continuing source of candidates for the priesthood, as they would have years of training before entering a seminary.
From 1930, hospitals were funded by a sweepstake (lottery) with tickets frequently distributed or sold by nuns or priests. On health matters it was seen as unsympathetic to women's needs and in 1950 it opposed the Mother and Child Scheme.
Many hospitals in Ireland are still run by Catholic religious institutes. For example, the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin is run by the Sisters of Mercy. In 2005, the hospital deferred trials of a lung cancer medication because female patients in the trial would be required to practise contraception contrary to Roman Catholic teaching. Mater Hospital responded that its objection was that some pharmaceutical companies mandated that women of childbearing years use contraceptives during the drug trials: "The hospital said it was committed to meeting all of its legal requirements regarding clinical trials while at the same time upholding the principles and ethos of the hospital's mission", and "that individuals and couples have the right to decide themselves about how they avoid pregnancy."
Divorce allowing remarriage was banned in 1924 (though it had been rare), and selling artificial contraception was made illegal. The Church's influence slipped somewhat after 1970, impacted partly by the media and the growing feminist movement. For instance the Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 showed the ability of the Catholic Church to force the government into a compromise situation over artificial contraception, though unable to get the result it wanted; contraception could now be bought, but only with a prescription from a doctor and supplied only by registered chemists. In the 1983 Amendment to the constitution introduced the constitutional prohibition of abortion, which the Church supported, though abortion for social reasons remains illegal under Irish statute law. However the Church failed to influence the June, 1996, removal of the constitutional prohibition of divorce. While the church had opposed divorce allowing remarriage in civil law, its canon law allowed for a law of nullity and a limited divorce "a mensa et thoro", effectively a form of marital separation. The Church helped reinforce public censorship and maintained its own list of banned literature until 1966, which influenced the State's list. The church was censored by the state. War-time censorship was strict, when bishops spoke on aspects of the war, they were censored and treated "with no more ceremony than any other citizen" While statements and pastoral letters issued from the pulpit were not interfered with, the quoting of them in the press was subject to the censor.
Privilège du blanc allows the queens (or queen consorts) of European Catholic countries to wear white during a papal audience; this has not yet been extended to Irish female presidents such as Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, as Ireland is a republic.
The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 acted as the constitution of Northern Ireland, in which was enshrined freedom of religion for all of Northern Ireland's citizens. Here Roman Catholics formed a minority of some 35% of the population, which had mostly supported Irish nationalism and was therefore historically opposed to the creation of Northern Ireland.
The Roman Catholic schools' council was at first resistant in accepting the role of the government of Northern Ireland, and initially accepted funding only from the government of the Irish Free State and admitting no school inspectors. Thus it was that the Lynn Committee presented a report to the government, from which an Education Bill was created to update the education system in Northern Ireland, without any co-operation from the Roman Catholic section in education. Instead, in regard to the Roman Catholic schools, the report relied on the guidance of a Roman Catholic who was to become the Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Education — A. N. Bonaparte Wyse.
|“||We hope that, notwithstanding the disadvantage at which we were placed by this action, it will be found that Roman Catholic interests have not suffered. We have throughout been careful to keep in mind and to make allowance for the particular points of view of Roman Catholics in regard to education so far as known to us, and it has been our desire to refrain as far as we could from recommending any course which might be thought to be contrary to their wishes.||”|
—Lynn Commission report, 1923
Many commentators have suggested that the separate education systems in Northern Ireland after 1921 prolonged the sectarian divisions in that community. Cases of gerrymandering and preference in public services for Protestants led on to the need for a Civil Rights movement in 1967.