The vast majority of Irish Catholics want to see women ordained as priests and male priests be allowed to marry, liberal clergymen have found.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), which has had one of its founding members silenced by the Vatican for his views, insists it has public support for Pope Benedict to open dialogue on the controversial bans.
The group of more than 800 priests in Ireland – out of a total of around 4,000 – claimed it has a mandate from mass-goers to raise concerns after a survey revealed a disconnect between official church teachings and what ordinary Catholics believe. Almost nine out of 10 Catholics questioned said priests should be allowed to marry, with 77 per cent believing women should be ordained.
Father Brendan Hoban, of the ACP, yesterday said the group believes in the fundamental teachings of the church and is not leading any breakaway from Rome.
“We are not dissident priests. There are not 815 dissident priests,” he said.
“We are reflecting what we are hearing in parishes and have heard in parishes for years.”
The ACP said its all-Ireland survey put statistics behind anecdotal evidence that parishioners want change from the heart of Rome.
It criticised the silencing of founding member Fr Tony Flannery, who was told to stop writing his monthly column in the religious publication Reality.
Fr Flannery, a priest in the Redemptorist missionary order, was also ordered to spend six weeks in a monastery for spiritual and theological reflection.
“We think it’s not the way the church should go about doing its business,” said Fr Hoban, a parish priest in Mayo in the west of Ireland.
“There are differences and there are problems and I think the way to face them is not by silencing the messengers, but teasing out what the message is.
“We are disturbed by that sort of blunt kind of reason to questions we are asking.”
Fr Hoban said Ireland’s Catholic church will be in crisis in 20 years when the country’s ageing clergy retire.
He said there is no reason why a married man should not be ordained, adding that concerned priests with up to 40 years service believe they have a right to raise questions that need to be addressed.
“We are operating this for the good of the church, we love the church, we want to be in the church,” said Fr Hoban.
A total of 1,000 Catholics in the north and south of Ireland were surveyed by Amarach Research over a two-week period in February.
It found 35 per cent attend Mass once a week – one of the highest rates in Europe – with 51 per cent attending once or more each month, 20 per cent a few times a year, and only five per cent never at Mass.
Elsewhere, three-quarters of respondents did not see Catholic Church teachings on sexuality as relevant to them or to their family.
More than six out of 10 disagreed with the Church’s stance “that any sexual expression of love between gay couples is immoral”.