Clerics' conference to discuss future of Church

The Association of Catholic Priests says it has real concerns about the future of the Catholic Church.

Over 1,000 people are attending a conference in Dublin today entitled “Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church” and aimed at planning a way forward for the Church here.

Members of the Association have recently faced criticism by the Vatican for expressing views which contradict Church teachings.

The meeting comes at a turbulent time for the Church and has been described as a first effort to bring people together to discuss the future direction of the Catholic Church.

It has been rocked in recent years by a series of high profile child abuse scandals, and most recently a BBC documentary suggesting that the Primate of All Ireland Cardinal Seán Brady failed to act after hearing allegations of abuse against Fr Brendan Smyth in the 1970s.

"At the moment the average age of priests in Ireland is 64," said Fr Brendan Hoban, among the senior clerics in the Association, adding that in a few short decades most of those would be gone.

"Without priests there is no Eucharistic, without the Eucharist there is no Church," he added.

"We are very, very worried about it… and we need to look at priesthood - what priesthood is supposed to do and how we can have priesthood for a new and different world."

One of those attending today's conferecne is clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins.

She believes the recent revelations about Cardinal Brady's inaction in reporting allegations against Fr Smyth in the 70s means he cannot remain in his current position.

"That is the pity of the whole situation," she said.

"That that man, who is the leader of our church, cannot see that there is anything morally wrong with his inaction in 1975.

"Whatever about how he acted or didn't act in 1975, I think his refusal at this point to even see or understand the morality of the whole issue is why he really should not be the head of our church."

The conference takes place today in the Regency Hotel in Whitehall.

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