On February 11, 2013, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, in a near unprecedented move that took his audience and the world largely by surprise, announced that he would abdicate as pope Benedict XVI. Speculation as to who was to become the successor to the one that would henceforth be known as pope ‘emeritus’ immediately started, until on March 13, an Argentinian cardinal of Italian descent, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected as pope Francis, to the surprise of many. Whereas the image of his predecessor was that of a stern and rather timid theologian, this can hardly be said of papa Bergoglio, who from his very accession has been heralded a renovator and a ‘modern’ pope, in many ways the opposite of his decidedly conservative, yet at the same time ‘postmodern’ predecessor. Two years have passed. To many, they have been years of revivification and progress. However, it can also be argued that there has been above all a change in tone and style, rather than in substance. As always, veritas in medio stat.
While Ireland remains a predominantly Catholic society, in recent years the Church has experienced a notable erosion in its authority and power. At the same time, other faiths are growing, and the number of atheists and agnostics is increasing steadily.
Ireland is a majority Catholic society. According to the 2011 census, about 84 per cent of the population self-identify as Roman Catholic. At the same time, the Irish religious landscape exhibits considerable diversity. The Orthodox, Hindu, and Pentecostal faiths are the country’s three fastest growing non-Catholic religious traditions. The number of atheists and agnostics has grown by about 320 and 130 per cent respectively in the 2006-2011 span (All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO), PDR Table 35: Percentage and Actual Change in Population by Sex, Religion, Census Year, and Statistic).