Father Paddy Byrne, a priest in the Irish Catholic Church, is following in the steps of some South American countries in his desire to put off religious rites of passage until such a time when those receiving them actually have a clue what they mean, and can do so with an informed mind and an honest heart.
Good on you, Father.
The Laois-based priest said: “One of the big initiatives in South America in the past few months was to implement a lot of the sacraments of initiation — ie, baptism, communion, confirmation — much later on in life.
“It should be when people have choice, when they have proper formation [of faith]. What I’m saying isn’t off the wall, it’s realistic.”
No, it’s not off the wall … but I’ll venture a guess and say there’s a good reason why these things were done early enough that those involved didn’t have much of a say in the matter. That’s what makes this move all the more pleasantly surprising.
This is taking a huge risk, too. Ireland ranks pretty low on the religiosity scale and relatively high on the one for atheism. According to the Irish Left Review (whose bias, as an American, is uncertain), it’s highly likely that the high percentage of self-described Catholics are anything but:
This is why the number of “true Catholics” in the country is likely to be far lower than the 81.4 per cent who identify as Catholic. Peer pressure, family tradition, and social habit can explain why people identify as Catholic when their ideals are completely at odds with Church teachings. […] Added to this is the very real fear that the rate of new priests being ordained in the country will not be enough to keep the Church alive, with only six being ordained in 2011.
If the only reason why people still identify as Catholic is because of the family tradition of these rituals and rites of passage, and now they’re being pushed out to an age where informed consent is possible, there’s a very real risk that this is going to result in an even faster decline of Catholicism in Ireland.
Still, I’m glad to see that there are those in the Church who are admitting that the way they’ve been doing things is geared towards taking advantage of family pressure and indoctrination … but they may find out in a generation or so that those things may have been the only reason why their religion stuck around for as long as it did. History will decide.