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.
Pádraig McCarthy.

Similar Posts


  1. In this article you say “The Opinion Poll is descriptive, not prescriptive”. Yet in the next article after this one you state
    “It is important that Irish committed Catholics show their solidarity with these priests who are articulating the views of the majority of Irish Catholics as evidenced in the recent Amarach survey”.
    Is it just me or does using the poll as a rally call push it from being descriptive, to being prescriptive?

  2. When a parent asks a child about their understanding, there is instantaneous dialogue that promotes learning in the child. In my view, the opinion poll does not provide for the instantaneous feedback needed for learning.

  3. Irene Kavanagh says:

    I am new to the ACP website and have just started reading all the articles and I think the Assembly to be held in May is a good idea.
    Regardless of everything that is happening in the Catholic Church around the globe, a suggestion by the Pope recently that all Catholics should wear a cross, I personally think, is a brilliant idea. In this time of uncertainty and diverse opinions about the direction and future of the Catholic Church, the symbol of the Cross is a reminder of what Catholicism is about. Suffering is part of life, no one escapes, and life is full of problems but the Church and being a member of the Church should be about helping and supporting all its members – women, men, children, not excluding anyone, and if wearing a Cross, helps to remind me and maybe others of Jesus and his compassion, it might just bring about little miracles that will affect all of us and this includes the Catholic hierarchy. Catholicism is us and all of us are the Church, not just Rome or rules but the lives of Cathloics living their ordinary lives daily. I personally hate the idea of Jesus suffering on the Cross but I love the symbol of hope and love that it has become and I love the Cross that I wear around my neck. Catholics everywhere are becoming more aware of what they want their Church to be, and that is a sign that Catholics themselves are putting their time, effort, into what it means to be a Catholic – surely this is good thing – being proactive shows interest in your faith and isn’t it right that Religious the world over who have invested so much of their own lives in their faith should be able to question, debate and suggest what they feel could make Catholicism richer for the 21st Century. I wish every sucess and blessing to all who will participate in the opening meeting of the ACP on May 7th.

  4. There is no inability, or inadequacy in people discerning the results of the poll. A poll is a poll and not particularly beyond practicing Catholics, or non-practicing. Figures are figures, we must deal with them, but as you say not be led by them, because ‘truth’ is not the slave of opinion.
    Saying 35% practice doesn’t necessitate that 35% of practicing Catholics think that everything proposed and published on this site is condoned by those people who are practicing and active within the Church for Christ Jesus – the best way they can and not looking for the bar to be re-set for them. That doesn’t mean that those who wish to be heard via the site are not worth listening to – but they have spokespersons.
    That’s entirely different, no? Speaking of the Universal Church as a seperate entity to the Irish Church is not exactly representative of those very much Irish Catholics who are humble enough to give themselves over to the Church that Jesus himself instituted, even in hard times – that’s what trust is – or what else are we? Who do we represent if not the Catholic Church? The Eucharist, the centre of our faith? We have a Eucharistic Congress just around the corner, let’s unite, submit, love eachother.
    Be brave. If people believe that the Catholic Church is not Jesus’ Church than say it out loud and clear – but please stop tearing it apart from the inside out. Irish people have enough already.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.