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Number of Catholics in Ireland declines but increases globally

By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 April, 2017

New figures from Census 2016 show a drop in the number of Catholics in Ireland from 84.2 per cent of the population in 2011 to 78.3 per cent in 2016.

According to summary results of the census of population published by the Central Statistics Office on Thursday, the overall population of Ireland increased by 3.8 per cent to 4,761,865 people in 2016.

Though the dominant religion in Ireland remains Roman Catholicism, there were 132,200 fewer Catholics in the country over the past five years, down to 3,729,100 from 3,861,300 in 2011.

The downward trend in Ireland contrasts with the global trend, which saw numbers of Catholics increase to 1.285 billion, according to the Vatican’s 2017 Annuario Pontifico or Statistical Yearbook.

The global Catholic population increased by 7.4 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Africa continued to be the continent with the largest percentage growth in Catholics, increasing by 19.4 per cent over that five-year period.

The statistics show that 17.7 per cent of the world’s population is Catholic, while 49 per cent of the world’s Catholics live in the American continent.

According to Census 2016, the number of people identifying themselves as members of the Church of Ireland dropped by 2 per cent to 126,400, while Presbyterians dropped by 1.6 per cent to 24,200 and Pentecostals dropped 4.9 per cent to 13,400.

But it is not all decline where religion is concerned. Three religions seeing growth in Ireland are Muslims, Hindus and Orthodox. There was a 29 per cent increase in the number of Muslims in Ireland in 2016 compared to 2011, up 14,200, and Hindus saw a 34 per cent increase on 2011. The number of Orthodox increased by 17,000, or 37.5 per cent.

In tandem with the fall away in Catholics, there has been a corresponding rise in the number of people with no religion. This group grew by 73.6 per cent from 269,800 to 468,400, an increase of 198,600 since 2011.

Those with no religion now account for just under 10 per cent of the population (9.8 per cent) of which 347,034 were Irish nationals and 104,907 were non-Irish nationals.

The Census figures show that the age group 20–39 accounts for 28 per cent of the general population, but 45 per cent of those with no religion fall into this age bracket. This contrasts with the strong level of faith adherence in the over 65s.

Unsurprisingly, the eastern seaboard counties around Dublin have the highest percentage of non-Catholics, with the percentages declining as you move west. This is indicative of both the cultural diversity to be found around the capital and its commuter belt and the more stable rural population west of the Shannon.

However, Galway is one of three counties, along with Dublin City and Dún Laoghaire, where more than one in three of the population is non-Catholic.

Globally, according to these latest Vatican statistics, 17.7 per cent of the world’s Catholics are in Africa, 11 per cent are in Asia, and 0.8 per cent live in Oceania.

In 2015, there were 670,320 professed women religious in the world, 415,656 priests, 54,229 religious brothers, 45,255 permanent deacons and 5,304 bishops.

The numbers for bishops and permanent deacons were the only two categories to experience growth from 2014 to 2015.

The number of Catholic priests in the world dropped by 136 during 2015. The increased number of diocesan and religious-order priests in Africa did not offset the drop in Europe, which lost 2,502 priests from 2014 to 2015.

However, over the five-year period (2010–2015) the number of diocesan priests in the Catholic Church rose, while the number of priests belonging to religious orders fell.

In 2010, there were an average of 2,900 Catholics for every Catholic priest in the world; however, in 2015 the ratio had climbed to 3,091 Catholics per priest.

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