Massey’s, a Dublin funeral home, spent $200,000 last year to open the first venue designed specifically to host civil funerals. Another Dublin funeral home, Legacy, launched a first-of-its-kind service last May that allows people to book funerals entirely online.
These entrepreneurs see themselves replacing the shrinking pool of priests. By one estimate, the number of Irish parish priests will drop from 2,000 today to a few hundred by 2042. If they want to bury a loved one without a lengthy wait for a priest, Wojnar said many families may soon have to choose a civil celebrant.
Compared to a church service, civil celebrations are more likely to include poems, pop music and personal messages. Wojnar has led ceremonies where families played songs by Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones. She’s even performed a funeral for an animal lover with dogs and cats in the room.
The church is still debating its response to the cultural shifts. Some priests have relaxed church protocols to allow similar personalization, but at least one leader prefers that people who lack a commitment to Catholicism stay away.
“I don’t want a church which people use at particular moments or use as a comfort zone,” said Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
Meanwhile, leaders on the religious right in Ireland say the move toward liberalization will come to an end, and religious institutions will once again thrive.
“It will eventually dawn on people that our dominant philosophy of individualism at all costs is doing no good,” said David Quinn, who runs the Iona Institute, a conservative think tank.
Yet even if religion rebounds under pressure to reform, Wojnar said her new profession is here to stay.
“People who respect, even practice a religion, will and do choose the civil option for many reasons,” she said. “I see this as a profession in growth despite what happens on the religious map.”
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