A plan to form an independent association of Ireland's 6,500 priests will aim to make church leadership more publicly accountable, its three leading movers said last night.
"It is based on reforming the Irish church along the spirit and vision of the church as the people of God," Mayo priest Fr Brendan Hoban told the Irish Independent last night.
"This was the reform policy that was called for by the Second Vatican Council when the world's bishops met in Rome from 1962-65, but it has not been put into practice in Ireland," Fr Hoban added.
The group, akin to a union for clergy, also wants to provide a more liberal voice to the conservative response of the Vatican and Irish church leaders to the unprecedented child clerical abuse crisis.
Priests, religious and missionaries around Ireland reacted enthusiastically yesterday to the proposal for forming an association of Irish priests, which was announced by Fr Hoban, along with Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery, and Columban missionary Sean McDonagh.
A statement from the trio invited interested clergy to attend a meeting scheduled to take place on September 15 in Portlaoise, which will attempt to reach agreement on a set of aims for the association.
This follows a recent meeting in Athlone which was attended by six other concerned priests, who included the Benedictine Abbot of Glenstal, Patrick Hederman, Fr Bobby Gilmore -- well known for his work with Irish communities in London -- and retired Dublin priest, Fr Padraig McCarthy. The Athlone meeting mandated Frs Hoban, Flannery and McDonagh to draft a set of prospective aims.
The three clerics agreed it would be impossible to represent all priests, given the diverse views among clerics, but they identified the need for wider discussion in the church to restore a positive relationship between bishops and priests'.
Last night Fr Flannery told the Irish Independent that tensions had developed between bishops and priests over the management of complaints of clerical child sexual abuse. He explained that one aim would be "to heal divisions between bishops and priests over how bishops were no longer father figures to their priests".
Since the folding up three years ago of the National Conference of Priests, there has been no coherent forum for priests.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Fr McDonagh said it was astonishing that the clergy was the only professional body in Ireland that did not have "a corporate voice".
Catholic Communications Office spokesman Martin Long said he did not think there would be any opposition in the church to an association to represent priests. "It is a good thing if priests wish to organise themselves in order to voice their opinions and this would be important at this challenging time for clergy and lay Catholics alike," he said.