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Priests want own union to stand up to bishops

Priests want to form their own association to give them a public voice and also fight for civil and ecumenical rights.

Members of the clergy around the country are being actively canvassed for their views on the new group.

The move comes at a time when relations between priests and their bishops have become increasingly strained.

A group of priests, disillusioned by not having a platform for their views, are now cavassing colleagues in other dioceses to determine the level of support.

One of the group, Fr Brendan Hoban, parish priest in Ballina, Co Mayo, says early indications suggest that support is substantial across dioceses, religious congregations and missionary societies.

"This is nothing at all to do with official channels. We don't expect any opposition because we are within our rights to have an association like this. We have things to say and we are prepared to say them," added Fr Hoban.

He said the idea for the association came about as a result of "a few people having a chat", including himself, Galway based Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery and Columban missionary and ecologist Fr Sean McDonagh.


He said they did not want to form a trade union but an association that would "articulate the views of priests" as well as taking on board their rights, both civil and ecumenical.

"Up until a few years ago, we had the National Conference of Priests but since that collapsed we have operated in a vacuum and found it difficult to represent our views.

Fr Hoban said they had not sought the approval of superiors over their proposals and a meeting is planned for September 15 in Portlaoise, Co Laois, to determine the level of backing.

A statement from the organisers said: "Clearly many priests are aware the Catholic Church is in crisis, is rapidly losing its relevance and its membership and that a voice for priests is an essential part of the Church's response at this critical juncture in our history."

Fr Hoban said the group would need considerable support "otherwise we would be considered a rump group not representative of the wider clergy."

A spokesman for the Catholic Communications office said he did not expect any opposition by the Church to the formation of an association.

"Clearly this is a challenging time throughout the Church for lay people and clergy alike and any initiative where priests organise themselves to convey their views is a good thing."