Role of women in the modern Catholic Church 'unacceptable'
A leading Catholic theologian has warned that the Catholic Church in Ireland is in danger of becoming a culturally irrelevant minority if it does not engage with the modern world.
Fr Gerry O'Hanlon, former Provincial of the Jesuit order, was responding to Thursday's census figures showing a 74pc surge in the number of people marking themselves down as having "no religion".
Although 78pc still classify themselves as "Catholics", Fr O'Hanlon says many of these were "cultural Catholics".
He questioned the extent to which Jesus mattered in their lives.
The Jesuit theologian said this week's census shows that the church needs to read the signs of the times to allow the voices of lay people to be heard and in particular women.
"Women are stalwarts of the Catholic Church when it comes of attendance and participation. The role of women in the church, as it is now, is unacceptable in modern times."
Fr O'Hanlon said Pope Francis wanted to change the role of women, and he urged the Bishops to embrace his ideas more enthusiastically.
"The Pope set up a commission to look at the issue of women becoming deacons and he wants women to be part of decision making." He said: "The census shows that Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin was right when he warned the church is in danger of becoming a culturally irrelevant minority."
Fr O'Hanlon said the church will have to find a way of re-engaging with young people if the Archbishop's worst fears are not to be realised.
"Otherwise it will be a much smaller traditionalist church. It would be seen as a safe haven to ease people's fears, but it needs to be vibrant and engaged with the issues of today."
The census showed that the decline of the church is particularly acute in parts of Dublin, with one-in-three of the population there now classed as non-Catholic.
Up to 45pc who define themselves as having "no religion" are in the 20-39 age bracket.
Responding to the fall-off in numbers, the Archdiocese of Dublin is trying to attract millennials with events, promoted through social media.
These include a Friday night gig called Encounter in St Paul's Church in the centre of Dublin. It includes live acoustic music and prayer with "pizza and refreshments" afterwards.
The Archdiocese is also trying to attract young people with a special book club and organised hikes through the Dublin mountain.
Ger Gallagher of the Archdiocese's Office of Evangelisation says: "If we are to attract young people we have to innovate. We cannot stand still."
Tom Inglis, Associate Professor of Sociology at UCD, said the church, the local Catholic school and the GAA are still pillars of the local community in many rural areas.
"They are inter-related in the parish, but in many areas the GAA has replaced the church as the main centre of community life, and you could say sport has become the new religion."