Lay Catholics frustrated over failure to raise celibacy issue
A group of lay Catholics has expressed "deep frustration" over the bishops' failure to bring proposals on ending the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests to Pope Francis during a visit to Rome this week.
According to a spokesman for the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI), there is a solution to the current chronic shortage of priests in the Irish Church but the bishops are "sticking" their heads "in the sand hoping the problem will go away".
The comments come after the Irish Independent revealed a middle-aged man has claimed he was sexually assaulted by a young cleric he met through a gay dating site.
Over 26 bishops representing every diocese in Ireland have begun a visit to Rome this week.
But following an "inconclusive discussion" on celibacy, they decided not to bring a proposal to the Pope's attention that priests who left ministry to get married should be invited to return to ministry.
The ACI has warned that the growing shortage of priests needs to be addressed "as a matter of urgency to ensure access by the faithful to Eucharist in the years ahead".
The ACI lay reform group said it fully supported Bishop Leo O'Reilly of Kilmore's proposal to set up a commission to examine the issue of celibacy.
That proposal emerged as a recommendation from a listening process last year among the laity and priests in Bishop O'Reilly's diocese.
In its statement, the group pointed out that, in seeking the establishment of a commission, Bishop O'Reilly was "reacting positively to the urging of Pope Francis who, speaking about the shortage of priests, said that local bishops are best acquainted with the needs of the faithful and should be courageous and bring concrete suggestions for reform to Rome".
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Noel McCann of the ACI, said: "In addition to ordaining married men, the ACI believes there is a cohort of ordained priests who left active ministry to marry, without seeking laicisation, who could be invited back into ministry right now."
The high percentage of priests over 65 years of age in Ireland and the low intake of seminarians suggest that in 10 years' time, many parishes will be without a resident priest.
The clustering of parishes has already resulted in some parishes being without a daily Mass, while others can only provide prayer services on selected weekdays without the distribution of communion.
"The crisis is clear, what is causing the crisis is clear, but what are we doing about solutions? Where is the urgency in terms of addressing the issue?" Mr McCann asked.