Trust in the Catholic church in Ireland has dropped dramatically over the past 10 years, according to a new report. However, the study, conducted by professors Fr Andrew Greeley and Conor Ward, showed that core beliefs remain strong and young people are growing more confident in their local parish priests. Fr Greeley is professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago and Professor Ward heads Social Science at University College, Dublin. The report, published in Doctrine and Life magazine, said: "If faith in the central religious teachings make a people religious, the Irish are vigorously religious, still the most religious people in Europe. But if it is required that a people have confidence in their religious organisations for them to be defined as religious, the Irish are indeed becoming secular. "While this decline of approval for religious organisations has occurred in most European countries, it is particularly precipitous in Ireland." Based on a series of interviews with 1,010 people, the survey found the number of people with no religious affiliation had risen from two to six per cent since 1990. Those who disapproved of religious leaders trying to influence voting had risen from 26 to 43 per cent. Forty-six per cent said the church had too much power - a rise of eight per cent on ten years ago. Many interviewed said the various scandals exposed over the past 10 years had shattered the public image of those who were once so deeply respected. Most people, however, placed more trust in their local parish priest than in politicians or business leaders. While just 15 per cent said they trusted their local councillor, 42 per cent would trust a priest. The highest level of confidence in priests was expressed by young men and women born after 1970 (53 per cent). "Perhaps young people see their local priest from a very different perspective to their parents," said professor Ward. The two professors said: "It would appear that younger Catholic Irish men and women, disaffected as they certainly are on some matters, have a strong and clear notion of what it is to be Catholic." The report found the influence of higher education was minor on both critical and sexual attitudes. Professor Ward said: "The prosperity attitude, so satisfying to many who thought Ireland was a 'better place' when its people were both poor and uneducated, is not supported by the data."
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