AN Irish politician who helped mastermind the marriage equality referendum has called for a debate within the Catholic Church on celibacy as well as female and gay priests.
The call came as former Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, who spent five years in Maynooth seminary, warned that the Church, just like Ireland, cannot continue to avoid such issues and need to face them in an open, honest and inclusive fashion.
Senator Buttimer spent five years in Maynooth before opting not to pursue the priesthood.
However, the Cork-based politician remains a committed Catholic and said the Church urgently needs to have an informed debate over celibacy and how to better include women and members of the LGBT community in its congregation.
"As a former seminarian and someone who has great faith, who is not anti-Church but pro-Church, I believe the events of the last week have highlighted the need for the hierarchy to embrace a new model of Church," he said.
"This should address celibacy, the role of women in the Church, the role of LGBT people, married priests, female priests and gay people who want to be priests."
Ironically, senior Church figures including the late Bishop Edward Daly also took the view that priestly celibacy needed to be reviewed in light of how successfully married priests have operated in other Christian churches.
Sen Buttimer said he was "very saddened" by the tone of the debate over recent weeks about the so-called gay culture at Maynooth.
"I don't think this should be viewed simply through the narrow prism of a gay dating app in Maynooth," he said.
"Obviously, the current model of Church has failed. We have seen a decline in vocations and we have seen parishes having to amalgamate. I am interested in seeing a model of Church that is inclusive and this is the ideal opportunity for us to move forward."
Sen Buttimer said the Church simply had to respond to modern challenges.
"The Church is nothing without its people - all of its people. Many of us are praying for an open and inclusive Church that welcomes all of its people."
"Unfortunately it just hasn't happened yet."
Sen Buttimer said no-one should be surprised that there are gay priests - he said he studied in Maynooth and remains friends with priests who are gay.
"The time I spent in Maynooth was a different time. The formation was one of developing all of us into men of faith and pastoral leaders."
"But I know there are gay priests - there were priests in my class who were gay. There were friends of mine who left who were gay."
"That is their business. There are also friends of mine (from
Maynooth) who are heterosexual."
"I don't think this should be simply focusing on the issue of celibacy of sexuality. It is how we can deliver a model of Church that is different and which reaches out to young people, old people and offers a vibrant, modern Church."
Sen Buttimer said that while his faith is very strong he never regretted leaving Maynooth.
"I never regretted entering or leaving Maynooth," he said, stressing he has less faith in the Church hierarchy which he described as "a protective, secretive organisation for far too long."
"But I don't think we should forget the fact that there are many fundamentally decent and honorable men and women in pastoral roles across the Church who are doing incredible work across our villages, towns and cities."
"That, to me, is the witness to the Gospel that you treat people with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, I have little faith in the institutional Church and the hierarchy. The leadership has left a lot to be desired."