An opinion poll is a snapshot of reality, not a call to revolt
There are some people commenting on the ACP Opinion Poll who do not seem to understand what an opinion poll is, and who interpret it as a list of demands about the way the church should be: they see it as a type of disloyalty or rebellion.
An opinion poll is just that: a way to establish what a particular group of people think about specific issues. It’s like a first step towards the Assembly in Dublin on 7 May: Naming the Reality. This is an important element in our being members of the Church. It is particularly important with those entrusted positions of authority for the service of the people. Parents, for example, may decide that a child should be in bed by 8pm. This may or may not be a good decision ast the time, or it may be imposed in a good way or bad way; but it will be helpful for the parents to know whether the child is doing what they think the child should be doing, and whether they may revise their decision. The Opinion Poll is descriptive, not prescriptive. And it is useful to know that 35% of those who declare themselves Catholic say that they go to Mass at least once a week. That’s about 1,300,000 people every week – they would fill Croke Park more than 15 times. This, of course, does not make headlines.
An opinion poll is an attempt at a snapshot of a reality at a particular time. If the same poll were taken 50 years ago, answers would have been very different; it would be foolish if we were to take such answers 50 years ago as prescriptive. There is nothing revolutionary or disloyal in naming the reality; it is common sense. We do not take an opinion poll about political parties as a statement of what should be; we simpy want to know how things are.
Some may think that the very fact of taking such a survey is disloyal; but the Church in Ireland has its own unit for carrying out such research, so it cannot be disloyal. There may be argument about the questions asked, and this is worth discussing. In the ACP poll, there was no question relating to any element of the very core of what it means to be a disciple. Perhaps ACP can work on another survey about the understanding people have of what it means to be a Christian in the Catholic church – this would also be interesting. Of the questions in the poll carried out, the only question which may come close to the bone perhaps is the question of the ordination of women, about which Rome has taken a very definite position; but it would be difficult to describe this in itself as a core matter of faith. In relation to mandatory celibacy etc., the Church already has married priests in active service; it is a matter of the discipline of the church at this time. Otherwise where would St Peter stand?
So we have named some of the reality of the Catholic Church in Ireland in 2011. It is important not to give the results of the Opinion Poll a status more than they have, and it is important not to rest there. The results of the Poll are a help towards the Assembly on 7 May, where the First Session has the title of Naming the Reality. The following two parts bring us further: the Second Session is The Vision. The Third Session is Where To From Here – can we identify steps to get us from the present reality to the reality described by the Vision, as it may be realised in Ireland in the immediate future.
We await the Beatific Vision. In the meantime we pray: Thy Kingdom Come.