Irish Catholic faithful struggle with Church teachings
Irish responses to the Vatican's survey on believers' attitudes show a significant gulf between the views of individual Catholics and the teachings of the Church.
The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference announced the findings today. In particular, the bishops were quoted by the Tablet as saying the Church's teachings on family life are not considered "realistic, compassionate or life-enhancing".
Among Catholic worshippers, many had "particular difficulties" with regards to pre-marital sex, cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, contraception and family planning, medically assisted conception, and homosexuality.
Many were left feeling "guilty and excluded" by the Church because of these teachings.
Similar findings were revealed when Swiss and German bishops published portions of their survey responses in early February.
A document summarising the responses of German Catholics to the survey said: "The Church's statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control ... are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases."
A summary of the Swiss survey results came to similar conclusions, and argued that the Catholic Church's mission was threatened by its stance on these issues.
The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference took the view that while there was no question of changing doctrine as a result of this survey, the Church must be more sensitive and compassionate in the way it shares these teachings.
The Association of Catholic Priests, a group that represents over 1,000 priests, welcomed the Irish findings.
"We believe it is important, if people are asked for their opinion, that the results be made known.
"We believe that it is now beyond dispute that there is a serious gap, call it a disconnect, between official Church teaching on family, relationships and sexuality, and the beliefs and practice of the Catholic people."
They described this disconnect as "a serious problem" and suggested that "it constitutes a big challenge to the whole Church".
In October there will be a two week long 'Synod on the Family' held at the Vatican, the first one of its kind since 1980. The gathering aims to address the "pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation".
In the light of this upcoming event, and these survey results, the ACP has called on all levels of the Catholic Church to "come together and search for ways in which this gap or disconnect could be bridged".