FOUR Archbishops recently sent by Rome to investigate the Church here reported back that many Irish clergy and lay people held views at extreme odds with Church teaching.
When Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recently spoke of "areas that may go beyond what is really acceptable within the realm of Catholic theology" it was clear a clampdown was coming from the Vatican and the Irish bishops.
However, it would not be "heresy hunting" -- the Archbishop assured.
While seen as a liberal, the Archbishop Martin has warned very publicly of a "climate of undeclared heresy'' and a deeper crisis in the Church here.
Ireland, he said, "is now a highly secularised society, and many look to the Church through a secularised lens to the point that, in a sense, one could speak of what I call 'a climate of undeclared heresy' that pervades many dimensions of understanding of Faith among Catholics.''
In its canon law the Catholic Church defines heresy as "the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith".
However denial of other truths might well be offensive, rash, even sinful, but it would not constitute formal heresy.
So, as Irish priests are being silenced by the Vatican, the key question is: are they being charged with promoting heresy or are they being silenced for issues which they claim are legitimate dissent from non-infallible Catholic doctrine?
There's no doubt, of course, that Archbishop Martin's analysis is on the right track regarding a major crisis for the Irish Church. A recent survey of Catholics showed very little agreement with Church teaching in a population that, acording to a recent Census, is 87pc Catholic.
Yet if many of the clergy and laity are undeclared heretics in the view of the bishops and the Vatican, whose fault is it?
The job of the bishops is to teach and guard the faith. Clearly they have failed badly and even the Pope was scathing of them in a recent letter to Irish Catholics.
So why are the bishops and the Vatican singling out a few mostly elderly priests to reprimand when they are only symptoms and not the cause? They are not very influential people nor have they a large following.
While Archbishop Martin says the abuse crisis was only a symptom of a greater crisis in the Church, he makes no attempt to finish the thought process by laying the responsibility firmly at the door of the Irish bishops who have utterly failed to pass on the faith.
If priests like Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Sean Fagan are being held to account for their alleged trespass into areas 'beyond what is acceptable' as the Archbishop puts it, then surely those in authority who have on their watch permitted a climate of undeclared heresy should also be held to account for their stewardship.
Given the total silence of the Irish bishops to date, with one exception, could Archbishop Martin please give leadership on this issue as he did on the abuse issue, which was after all as he said, only a symptom of this larger problem?
What is most urgent is that the Vatican speeds up its proposal to cut the number of Irish dioceses, most of which haven't changed in 1000 years.
Poor governance, too many dioceses and a clique approach to appointing successors has paralysed Irish bishops over the years. This was amply, and tragically, demonstrated in their mishandling of cases of abuse.
Governance of the Irish Church must be radically reformed now.
Garry O'Sullivan is editor of The Irish Catholic and is appearing on Prime Time on RTE tonight