THE Pope will be officially told the Irish Catholic Church is "on the edge" of national collapse and has only five to 10 years to make a radical recovery by giving laymen and women a greater say in decision-making.
This warning will be submitted in the coming months in a confidential report to Pope Benedict XVI by an international investigator examining the state of the Irish church in the wake of the Murphy and Ryan reports into clerical child abuse.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, gave this commitment at a private meeting with members of the recently formed Catholic Priests' Association, Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery revealed at the weekend.
Addressing the annual meeting of The People of God, a lay reform group, Fr Flannery, who met Cardinal O'Malley, revealed that the US prelate engaged in "serious discussion" with the association.
Fr Flannery said Cardinal O'Malley told the association that the Irish church had a decade, at most, to avoid falling over the edge and "becoming like other European countries" where religion is marginal to society.
Previously sceptical about the Apostolic Visitation to Ireland ordered by Pope Benedict, Fr Flannery said that in the light of Cardinal O'Malley's undertaking, "there may be some gleam of hope".
But he also revealed that at a separate meeting with the papal investigator into the Archdiocese of Tuam, Canadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast told the association that conservative lay groups in the west had expressed support for the Irish bishops despite their record of cover-ups of paedophile clerics.
Fr Flannery said that while the Association of Catholic Priests was ready to campaign for radical change, it was apprehensive that it would be viewed as "a new clericalism".
The association's preference was for lay groups, such as Pobal, to come forward and give voice to the aspirations of the majority of Catholics for change, Fr Flannery added.