While there has been a sharp decline in Mass attendance and religious vocations in Ireland, there is also the emergence of “extra-institutional” religion, which tends to be ecumenical with a concern for spirituality, community, personal growth and social justice, according to sociologist Gladys Ganiel of Trinity University of Dublin.
In a paper presented at the conference of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Ganiel said that these new types of religious groups are filling a niche in a country that has seen declining Mass attendance and vocations since the Irish tiger prosperity period of the 1990s and especially during the more recent priest sexual abuse crisis.
Ganiel conducted Internet surveys of about 1,600 clergy and laity, and case studies of groups and people that espouse such “extra-institutional” religious space. They include the “media priest” Brian D’Arcy, who has gained a wide following speaking out about priestly sexual abuse and a new Benedictine monastery, run by French monks, that has become a popular center of spiritual growth. Another initiative is the Jesuit-run Sli Elle, “another way,” which works with young people and has a social justice and ecumenical orientation.
Such organizations, though small, are viewed as a seedbed of reform and renewal in the church, and they are also valued by Protestants and other religious minorities as “legitimizing their place in Ireland,” Ganiel concluded.