The vast majority of Catholics in one Irish diocese still consider themselves as 'regular practising' while over 60% are regular Mass-goers according to a new study. A survey of over 900 Catholics in the Diocese of Killaloe has revealed that despite changes in society, people still claim to belong to the Church and to maintain their faith. However, older people have a significantly stronger bond of attachment than the young. Commenting on the survey Bishop Willie Walsh said overall he was very encouraged by the views expressed. "Attitudes to the Church and the priesthood are much more positive than anecdotal comment would lead one to expect. I believe we can take heart from most of the findings of this survey. We commissioned it to help us develop a Vocations Strategy and the results raise my hope that we can work to draw young people to the priesthood and the religious life," he said. "Even people who may be disappointed or even angry with the Church or bishops can still have a very high regard for and trust in their local priest and local Church community," he added. Of those who identified themselves as Catholic, 61.6% described themselves as regular Mass-goers, 23.5% as occasional attenders and 11.4% say they rarely to go Mass. 3.4% described themselves as non-practicing Catholics. While 74% aged over forty described themselves as regular Mass-goers, the figure falls to 42.3% for the under forties. The survey also shows that the greatest proportion of regular Mass-goers are to be found in rural areas among an older population. Research consultant and survey author Dr Pat Bogue described the findings as very positive for the Catholic church and clergy. "Clearly people have very strong links with their priest and parish. However, I believe there is a major challenge ahead for church and clergy to continue to meet the needs of the people," he said. " Fewer priests will inevitably impact on the level of services that can be provided. Crucial in meeting this challenge will be the need to effectively communicate with people and involve them in future planing and decision making." Over 90% considered that priests were doing a good job. However, half of the people surveyed considered that the survival of the Catholic faith is under threat. The scandals of recent years are seen as a significant negative factor in people's view of the priesthood. They also see celibacy as a negative factor. People rated loneliness as the most difficult aspect of a priest's life. However, over half the respondents would provide encouragement to a friend or family member who was contemplating the priesthood or the religious life. Bishop Walsh said the survey arose from a need to promote and encourage vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. "We are under no illusions about the difficulties in this challenge. An initial step in the process was commissioning this survey on attitudes and practice among the Catholic population of the diocese. We now have a great deal of useful information on a range of issues that will assist in developing a vocations strategy. We have identified areas of strength and weakness, but I believe the positives significantly outweigh the negatives and we now need to work on both," he said. The survey showed that more people are willing to get involved in parish activity, if they are asked. Already, over 22% of respondents play an active part in their parish. Twice as many over 40 years were involved in parish activities compared to those under 40 years of age. Parents and teachers rather than priests are considered the more important faith and belief influencers on children. The survey also revealed that 16.5% at some point thought about pursuing the priesthood or religious life and as many as one in ten of those under 40 years had considered it. Catholics in the diocese are concerned about the decline in vocations but are uncertain about what can be done to reverse the trend. A summary of the survey findings will be available to all parishioners in the Diocese of Killaloe from this weekend. At present a group are working on finalising a Pastoral Plan which will guide the work of the church in the Diocese of Killaloe or the foreseeable future. This plan will be published throughout the diocese in the coming months.
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