There has been a big rise in the number of farm families who say religious services have been cut in their area.
The Irish Examiner / ICMSA opinion poll found 74% of respondents agreed that religious services have been cut back or curtailed in their local area. Back in 2016 when the same question was asked, the corresponding figure was 53%.
Those aged 45-64 were most likely to report a cutting back of religious services in their areas, while those under 35 were least likely to report the same, although even among that age group 61% said services had been curtailed.
A number of Catholic Archdioceses have admitted difficulties in ensuring an adequate number of priests are available to cover religious services, alongside a reduced number of vocations in recent decades.
Last year, an Irish Examiner special report showed that at least half of the 25 archdioceses and dioceses around the country have seen an aggregate fall in the number of priests serving within them in the past five years, while almost half have parishes which have had to reduce the number of Mass services they can offer.
However, despite these pressures on the Church, the opinion poll shows a fall in the level of support for the ordination of women priests among farming families. Back in 2016, 80% of those questioned said they backed the idea of the ordination of women priests, but in this year’s poll 73% agreed.
Three years ago 58% strongly agreed with the idea of women priests, but this time out just 43% strongly agreed. In addition, 17% neither agreed nor disagreed with the proposition.
There was still majority support for the ordination of women priests across every demographic in the poll. The lowest level of support was among those aged 65 and over, yet even there more than two-thirds of respondents were in favour.
Those with an off-farm income were also marginally more likely to back the idea than those earning exclusively from a farm.
Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, in which this year’s National Ploughing Championships took place, said the farming community were “part and parcel of parish life all over the country, part of the living church” and that the poll results reflected the challenges facing the Church.
Bishop Nulty said: “We would be no different to any other dioceses around the country” in terms of low vocations, but said parishioners understood the reasons why services would be curtailed and that initiatives such as the diocesan pastoral council was looking at ways to address any concerns.
Fr Tim Hazelwood of the Association of Catholic Priests said: “The reality is that services will be cut back because there is a huge problem with vocations. There aren’t priests in training and we are all getting older.”
He referred to a number of parishes known to him where there was no priest in situ and added: “That is a reality. They [those polled] are going to be noticing it an awful lot more, it is going to get much worse.”
The Association of Catholic Priests is to host a public meeting on Women in the Church on Saturday, October 5, in DCU, Dublin, and Fr Hazelwood said its own findings indicated there was pronounced support for the ordination of women priests among those attending religious services, as well as an opening up of attitudes towards issues such as allowing priests to marry.