Irish priests back Pope Francis' comments on end to celibacy
The organisation representing Catholic priests in Ireland has called for an end to the Vatican's celibacy rule. The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland warmly welcomed recent comments by Pope Francis hinting that priests may be able to marry in the future.
The Pontiff's views have been hailed as "refreshing" and "uplifting" by a large number of priests here.
"It's a new way of looking at things and it makes total sense," Fr Seamus Ahearne of the Association of Catholic Priests told the Sunday Independent.
"We raised the question of celibacy with the bishops in the early days of June as an issue to be looked at and the fact that Pope Francis has opened that discussion matters. Our view would be that Christ takes flesh in the messiness of everyday life. The wider the ministry the better, it's the mixture that is necessary.
"It can't just be male - old males, celibate males - it has to be a mixture of male, female, young people, old people, married people and unmarried people, anyone," he added.
Father Ahearne said it is now a matter of time before the Catholic Church also begins to reconsider its stance on women joining the priesthood.
"I think it's going to happen eventually," he added. "Who would ever have thought that Francis could have been elected? Who would ever have thought that the kind of things he is saying could be said? When will it happen? I have no idea, but it should.
"It takes a while for any discussion, it takes a while for things to grow. Look at the age profile of priests, there is no replacement for those who retire or die. Priests are going on until they are 75 or 80, when they could be retired at 65. They can't carry the load."
The number of people taking up vocations in Ireland has dropped sharply in the past decade. In 2012, vocations hit a record low when just 12 men entered the priesthood.
According to the European Federation of Married Catholic Priests, more than 100,000 men have left the priesthood to get married.