Atheists have a new way of joining religion – joining in on a public service.
The Catholic Church is allowing atheists to join its religious ceremonies on public occasions in Ireland.
When they register, they can say “I am a Catholic” and have the blessing of the Archbishop of Dublin, the church said.
It follows a similar move by the Anglican Communion.
However, the Catholic Church has a slightly different approach.
A spokesman said the Church would not be taking any “advocacy” from atheists, but it was welcome to hear their concerns about issues such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage.
“We welcome the fact that there are many Catholics who are in favour of this option,” he said.
The church has been campaigning for atheists to be able to participate in public services, including funerals and church services.
Its new policy will allow the Church to invite people who “do not identify with the Church or its traditions” to the event.
The Catholic Communion is not the only Catholic church in the world to allow atheists to participate.
The Anglican Church has been open to atheists for more than 50 years, and its position is that atheists “should be invited” to religious services.
However, some of the Anglicans most prominent leaders, including Bishop Michael Curry, have recently come out in support of the right of atheists to express themselves in public spaces.
Archbishop Curry said he was aware of the situation, and he hoped that the new Irish policy would lead to greater openness and acceptance of atheism among Catholics.
Catholics are generally more accepting of atheists than Protestants, he said, and that was a “good thing”.
“It will open up more opportunities for atheists, which we should all be trying to encourage.”
The Irish Times understands that Archbishop Curry and his fellow bishops have asked for more information on the proposal, and the Archbishop’s office is expected to receive it within the next two weeks.
The move follows a letter from Archbishop Michael Curry to the head of the Church of Ireland, Diarmuid Martin, last year.
In that letter, the archbishop said the church was open to the idea of atheists joining in a service.
However he warned that atheists should not be allowed to “adopt the identity of the faith”.
“It is for this reason that we strongly encourage the Church not to adopt the identity or position of any one particular denomination or group of denominations, or any particular religious faith,” he wrote.
“We want to be open and welcoming to those who are atheists, just as we welcome all people to our Catholic churches.”
Atheists are already allowed to attend Catholic and Anglican funerals in Ireland and the Catholic Confession of Faith states that atheists have “the same rights and duties as members of the faithful”.