A GROUP representing more than 800 priests last night reacted with anger to a highly critical Vatican inspection of the Irish College in Rome.
The report, by the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has called for substantial reform at the institution which educates students for the priesthood.
It expressed concern about the staffing, as well as the atmosphere and philosophy of the college.
Cardinal Dolan found that the college "suffers from the reputation of being gay friendly, however unjust such a reputation might be".
The report criticises Ireland's four Catholic archbishops -- the trustees of the college -- and alleges that staff were critical of any emphasis on the teaching authority of the church.
The archbishops issued a statement saying they were presented with an initial Vatican report which contained "some serious errors of fact". They refused to elaborate.
However, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) last night said the report had "effectively destroyed" the reputation of the four priests involved with the college.
"It is unacceptable that a report to the Pope, on a sensitive issue, should be conducted in such an incompetent fashion," the group said. "No court of law would treat people in such a way."
The report was carried out by Cardinal Dolan as part of the apostolic visitation into some dioceses, seminaries and religious institutions last year.
It is alleged that they were disengaged from college governance, with irregular meetings, minutes and agenda.
Last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore welcomed the Papal Legate Cardinal Mark Ouellet, Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin to a reception in Dublin Castle -- but there was no comment on the report. The report also reportedly recommended a change in the staff.
The ACP called on the bishops "to publicly repudiate this report in the strongest possible terms and to support the priests".
"Cardinal Dolan's report not only undermines the reputation of priests who have not been given a right of reply, it also undermines the credibility of the whole visitation process," the ACP said.
"It would appear that, in undertaking this particular visitation, conclusions were effectively drawn beforehand and then evidence to support them was actively sought."
The Archdiocese of New York said Cardinal Dolan was not available for comment.
Meanwhile, a Galway Redemptorist priest who was silenced by the Vatican earlier this year because of his criticisms of the Catholic Church in relation to their response to clerical sex abuse in Ireland is to return to public ministry in his native county next week.
Fr Tony Flannery (64), of the Redemptorist Monastery in Esker, near Athenry in Co Galway, will receive his order's annual Novena on Tuesday.