Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Irish losing their religion fastest among western countries: global survey

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, August 9, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A massive global study on religiosity, covering 57 countries and five continents, has found that of the western nations, the Irish are losing their faith faster than anyone. The Global Index of Religion and Atheism, a survey conducted by the Gallup International Association, showed that of all countries studied, only Vietnam is losing interest in religion faster than the Republic of Ireland.

“Globally, those claiming to be religious, drops by 9 per cent, while atheism rises by 3 per cent. This compares to a drop of 22 per cent among the Irish population claiming to be religious,” the report said. It added that 44 percent of Irish surveyed said they are not religious and 10 percent said they are “convinced atheists,” a dramatic rise from three percent in 2005.

“Most of the shift is not drifting from their faith, but claiming to be ‘not religious’ while remaining within the faith,” the report said.

While most media outlets are citing the recent revelations of clerical abuse of young people in Ireland as the reason for the shift, others have placed the source further back with the long-term failure of religious authorities to adequately teach and uphold the Catholic Church’s tenets.

Liam Gibson, the Northern Ireland spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and a long-time observer of the religious situation of Ireland, told LifeSiteNews.com that the religious downturn in Ireland is not a surprise, given the falling away from religious faith in the rest of the western world.

Since the 1960s, “the activity of the Irish Church has been focused on social justice issues to the detriment of the spiritual and eternal aspects of the Gospel.”

Moreover, the findings of the survey, he said, are a crucial factor in getting the pro-life message out. “Globally speaking the Catholic Church is the pro-life movement so social trends which alienate people from the Church will have an impact on how the pro-life message is received,” Gibson said.

“This atheism,” he added, “isn’t an intellectual one but arises from the fact that there is so little truth, beauty and goodness visible in contemporary culture. The coming years in Ireland will be decisive but the pro-life movement cannot prosper long if the Christian life continues to decline.”

Patrick Buckley, SPUC’s representative in Dublin and at the EU, told LSN, that there is no one factor that can be pointed to, but the causes include a combination of sudden increase in wealth during the country’s “Celtic Tiger period” and “poor catechetical formation” by the Church itself.  Buckley also listed the “child abuse scandals” and a hostile media as contributing factors.

“Add to the foregoing the almost constant denigration of traditional values and the celebration of immorality and depravity on TV, which is also readily accessible online.” Buckley noted, however, that with the economic downturn, “some are returning to the fold.”

The survey found that 59 percent of the 51, 927 people surveyed around the world described themselves as religious; 23 percent said they are “not religious” and 13 percent said they are “convinced atheists”. But Ireland, whose people still overwhelmingly identify themselves as Catholic, stands out in contrast with only 47 percent considering themselves “religious,” placing the country at 43 out of 57 countries.

Ireland is now among the top ten nations with the largest number of convinced atheists, following China, Japan, the Czech Republic, France, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Iceland and Australia.

At the time of the 2006 census, 87.4 per cent of Irish registered themselves as Catholic, which number had dropped to 84.2 per cent by 2011. A study undertaken by Georgetown University found that in 1980 Ireland’s Catholics had one of the highest rates of weekly Mass attendance in the world. This rate, however, has dropped precipitously from 81 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2006.

According to archdiocese of Dublin’s figures, weekly Mass attendance in the diocese, the area with the lowest rates of adherence in the country, had fallen to 18 percent by 2011. In May last year, the Irish Times reported that among younger people, the number attending weekly Mass in Dublin was around 2 percent, according to the archdiocese’s own records. 

A 2012 survey, conducted by the Association of Catholic Priests, a dissident group seeking to change Catholic teaching on sexuality and women’s ordination, found that weekly mass attendance for the whole country stood at about 35 percent with previously common daily attendance being about 3 percent.

The same survey also indicated that acceptance or understanding of Catholic teaching on key cultural issues was low, with 87 percent feeling the Church should abolish mandatory priestly celibacy and 77 percent saying that women should be allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. About 60 percent “disagreed strongly” with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and only 20 percent agreed that sexual expression outside of marriage was immoral. Three quarters said that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is “not relevant” to them or their families.

Other countries seeing a drop in religious belief are, in order, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Iceland, Ecuador, the US, Canada and Austria. The most religious countries were Ghana, Nigeria and Armenia and the least were China, Japan and the Czech Republic. Notable also is the survey’s findings that many of the most religiously inclined countries are strongly Islamic, and that the countries seeing the sharpest decline in religious belief are all formerly Christian-majority.

Liam Gibson said that it is not surprising that the general state of global decline in religious belief should be hitting Ireland now: “Historically Ireland has been at the tail end of most cultural trends. While the decline in Christian life was taking place in the rest of Western Europe gradually, it wasn’t so obvious in Ireland.”

Gibson said that the delay in its effects until relatively recent years “has made the decline in Ireland seem more dramatic.”

Gibson also said that the causes include a uniquely Catholic problem that has been commented on globally for 50 years: “banal” liturgy and uninspired, uninspiring preaching since the major changes to the Church’s liturgy in the 1960s. For a country in which the day-to-day practice of Catholicism, through its liturgical and devotional rites, was the central driving cultural force, the changes in the liturgy hit the laity hard.

“When it comes to the public worship of the Church, the experience of most Irish Catholics is of what Pope Benedict has referred to as a banal, on-the-spot fabrication.

“The Mass in many Irish parishes lacks beauty, reverence and the standard of preaching is frequently anodyne and sometimes verging on the heretical.”

In addition, a “spirit of materialism” has infiltrated through every level of Catholic life. Not in the sense of pursuit of wealth, but “in the sense that the visible world is all that matters.”

Gibson also pointed directly at the bishops for their failure to defend and promulgate the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterated the Church’s teaching that artificial contraception is “gravely” sinful. This failure, one that the Irish bishops shared with the Catholic episcopate throughout the western world, “also played a part in the spread of this materialism”.

“It has led many people to believe that it was possible to reject Catholic teaching on the most serious issues and remain a Catholic. Eventually this contradiction is resolved by the complete abandonment of the Catholic faith.”

He said that a restoration of “reverence and beauty” in Catholic liturgy and music “is capable of reversing this trend” even now.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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