A LEADING priest has launched a broadside against the Catholic Church hierarchy, saying they are sticking their heads in the sand over a number of crucial issues, such as women priests.
Fr Joe McGuane, who is based in Youghal, Co Cork, warned that if the current church regime continued, Mass attendances in Ireland would soon be reduced to small groups of old women.
His comments came as relations between the church and the Government sank to a historic low after Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore confirmed the forthcoming shutdown of Ireland's embassy in the Vatican.
The financial problems facing the church could leave some clerics "filling supermarket shelves at night or on the dole if they have bad backs," the priest said.
In a hard-hitting assessment of the crisis that now faces the church, he warned: "The Papal Nuncio knows as much about the abuse-rocked Diocese of Cloyne as a cow knows about a holiday."
Fr McGuane said that some Dublin parishes now had greater populations than some west of Ireland dioceses.
He said the Eucharistic Congress, to be held in Dublin next summer, was "designed as a distraction", with interest in it -- on a scale of one to a 100 -- ranking as minus three.
Fr McGuane told the Irish Independent that he took no pleasure in his assessment of the problems facing the church -- but warned that those problems could only be overcome with honesty, courage and transparency.
He said a crucial issue now facing the church was the role of women.
"We are the only profession that excludes women; the only one who insists that it (the vocation) is for life.
"Unless we have married women, we will soon have tiny numbers.
"But then they will only be catering for a few, so I suppose there is no need to panic. Furthermore, there will be income only for a few.
"Is it any wonder we are in the mess we are in? Seventeen years after the late Brendan Smyth was convicted of child sexual abuse, not alone are we still at square one but we have actually gone backwards.
"This is because of our dearth of leadership," he said. "Our prelates are, by and large, incapable of initiative and innovation. They are almost entirely bereft of ideas. They have no idea what to do."
The Diocese of Cloyne did not respond to Fr McGuane's comments last night.
Fr McGuane -- who is chaplain at the St Raphael's Centre -- insisted that the church's problems started at the top.
"There have been proposals that all bishops appointed before Diarmuid Martin should resign. This would be useless while the present system of appointments is in place. Clones would replace them," he said.
"They, in turn, would appoint similar clones to all positions and their characteristic would be blind knee-jerk unconditional obedience, no matter how stupid the instruction."