Church must listen or it won't have a prayer

THE new survey that says that Irish Catholics have "liberal" views on clergy having sex is hardly startling. Christians have always been preoccupied with what goes on in the pants department.

Some of the early Christians held views that would make Pope Benedict look like a liberal. Take the Gospel of Thomas, for instance, which advocates celibacy and tells the story of how the Apostle convinced an Indian princess to plead a bad headache to her husband after hearing Thomas wax lyrical about "filthy intercourse".

The Church, in fairness, has taught that this is heresy, but in its history has come close to these extreme views on sex, not least in the Ireland of the 1930s up to the 1960s.


It is not surprising that 75pc feel the Church's teaching on sexuality is not relevant to their lives, according to the Association of Catholic Priests survey. The Church makes no real effort to explain why it teaches what it does; moreover, people find it difficult to take direction from celibate clergy on the complexities of being a sexual person in modern society.

Either the Church has to change or modify its teaching, or learn to live with the fact that most of its followers don't adhere to its teaching on sexual ethics.

The Church's position on homosexuality is also losing favour among Catholics, with 46pc opposed to Rome's view. To say that homosexual people are welcome in the Church as long as they don't practise is an increasingly untenable position. While the Church says homosexual acts are not natural, patently if God is the creator, then he created people who don't fit into the narrow boxes the Church likes to pretend exists.

To ask homosexual Catholics to live like monks is a cop-out and it is clear that Irish Catholics who are parents, brother or sisters of gay people can see that the reality on the ground -- the love they have for their gay children or gay siblings -- is a lot more Christian than a sterile rule that only serves to alienate gays and make them feel like second-class Catholics.

Elsewhere, 87pc of us believe that the life of a celibate is not only unhealthy but also unnecessary. Priests should have the option to marry, as priests do in other Churches (perhaps even marry each other?)

Yet a word of warning. The money coming into the Church has dropped significantly and priests earn poor salaries: are Catholics prepared to cough up the extra cash needed to pay priests properly so they can support a family? The abuse cases and the financial crash have wiped out Church reserves, so it's a real question to ponder.

A more difficult issue is women priests. At first it seems a no-brainer, a modern correction to 2,000 years of male dominance, but the Church does not believe it can make this change. Moreover a large number of Catholics worldwide don't believe it can either and should it do so we would instantly have a divided Church. And for what? Women's ordination has not revived the Protestant Churches or filled their pews; they, too, are dying in Western Europe.


What is missed in these surveys is a deeper analysis of the problems affecting Western Christianity: the solutions always seem to be "let's have more priests". But the problem with the Church is the dominance of the clergy.

We are at a once-in-a-1,000-year juncture in the Catholic Church and it's a huge opportunity for lay people to take the Church back from a clerical caste. Why shouldn't the next Pope have lay Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel to elect him? There's no Church law against it.

Catholics in Ireland should fight for their rights -- the right to have a voice and the right to have a Church that is not a centralised monarchy more suitable to the Middle Ages.