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Religiosity Plummets In Ireland And Declines Worldwide; Atheism On The Rise

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Rocked in recent years by sex-abuse scandals and crises in leadership, the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland has been struggling to keep its members close.

But this week, a new global survey on faith and atheism has revealed that the crisis of faith in Ireland may be much worse than previously thought.

According to the poll released by WIN-Gallup International, the traditionally Catholic country has seen one of the steepest drops worldwide in religiosity.

The poll -- which was based on interviews with more than 50,000 people selected from 57 countries -- asked participants, "irrespective of whether they attended a place of worship, if they considered themselves to be religious, not religious, or an atheist."

In Ireland, only 47 percent of those polled said they considered themselves religious -- a 22-point drop from the 69 percent recorded in a similar poll conducted in 2005. In addition, 10 percent self-identified as atheist.

The only country that registered a steeper decline in religiosity was Vietnam, which saw a 23-point drop from 53 percent to 30 percent.

However, Ireland and Vietnam were not unique in this dip in faith, Reuters notes.

According to the global index, there has been a notable decline in religiosity worldwide.

Current data shows that the number of people worldwide who call themselves religious is now 59 percent, while 13 percent self-identify as atheist.

However, according to trending data, religiosity has fallen by 9 points globally since 2005 and the number of people who identify as atheist rose from 4 percent to 7 percent. Note that only 40 countries were polled in both 2005 and 2012, so there are two different sets of data available.

The U.S., France and Canada joined Ireland on the top-10 list of countries to have experienced a "notable decline in religiosity" since 2005.

The number of people in the U.S. who self-identify as religious dropped 13 points to 60 percent. In addition, 5 percent of Americans declared themselves atheists, an increase of 4 points since 2005.

Yet, despite this global decline in faith, the focus at the moment seems to be on Ireland, where Catholicism has had a long and rich tradition.

Since the poll results were made available to the public, many have lamented the drop in Ireland's religious feeling, with one Guardian writer calling it "the end of Catholic Ireland."

However, some Irish Catholic officials and organizations are insisting that the poll may not show the full picture and have cautioned against taking the index as a comprehensive indicator of Irish faith.

For example, a spokesperson for the Catholic Communications Office told the Belfast Telegraph that the language used by the poll may have been misleading.

"The word 'religious', if left unqualified, is too general to be used as the keyword in a survey questionnaire -- especially in the Irish context -- where people prefer words such as 'spiritual'. Being 'religious' is a very subjective measurement," he said.

Indeed, the same Guardian writer who hinted at an impending collapse of Catholicism in Ireland also noted that though "the traditional structures of "religion" [may be] weaker, there remains a strong deposit of "faith" among the people."

Nonetheless, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said that the global index has undoubtedly highlighted the challenges facing the Catholic Church in Ireland.

"The Catholic Church, on its part, cannot simply presume that the faith will automatically be passed from one generation to the next or be lived to the full by its own members," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Sinead Mooney, deputy managing director of RED C Research -- the company that conducted the Irish poll -- told Reuters that there were two factors that likely contributed to Ireland's sharp decline in religiosity.

"Obviously, there were all the scandals in the Church over that period -- that was massive," she said. "Also, as countries get richer, they tend to lose some sense of religion. We did become richer -- at least at the beginning of that period."

According to the poll, the most devout region of the world is Africa -- and the countries where most people self-identified as religious were Ghana (96 percent), Nigeria (93 percent) and Macedonia (90 percent), Reuters notes.

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Clarification: Since only 40 countries were polled in both 2005 and 2012, the WIN-Gallup poll on faith has two sets of data (current and trending) -- both of which were referred to here. For the sake of clarity, this article has been amended to reflect this.

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