In his new book, Fr Brendan Hoban, one of the founding fathers of the Association of Catholic Priests, says that the Church hierarchy has to start addressing the consequences of the lack of vocations in the Church.
“In 20 years’ time there will only be a handful of priests, elderly and enfeebled, being driven around a vast area struggling to bury the dead. In 30 years’ time, for all practical purposes, there may be no priests at all,” he said.
“Cardinals are appointed for different reasons. It can be a way of giving recognition to a senior churchman or an individual theologian. Or it can be part of the political manoeuvring within the Roman Curia. Or can be a way of indicating Vatican approval of some significant achievement like the peace process.
“Why can it not be something as important and significant as underlining the role of women in the Church?” asked Fr Hoban.
“Imagine if Sr Stanislaus, one of the most respected women in Ireland, was appointed a cardinal. What would it mean for the Catholic Church in Ireland and beyond? Or Mary McAleese, or Nuala O’Loan?”
Fr Hoban says there is “no reason why it should not happen”.
In his new book, Where Do We Go From Here? The Crisis in Irish Catholicism, Fr Hoban also suggests that men, married and unmarried, who have proven their worth, should be ordained with a modified formation or education programme, like the new married deacons.
“Ordaining married men is an option that, out of dire necessity, no doubt will be considered in the near future... as the number of Anglican clergy who have been reordained as Catholic priests increases... the reality of married priests will become more accepted,” he said. With celibacy becoming less of an issue, he argues, former priests could also start returning to the fold.
Quoting Bishop Edward Daly, he questions “why celibacy should be the great and unyielding arbiter, the paradigm of diocesan priesthood”.
Fr Hoban also expresses serious concern about how Catholicism is vanishing from Irish culture. “The difficult truth,” he argues, “is that we have no idea now where we’re going.”
The only road left open, he believes, is a return to the spirt of Vatican II, where we build a “people’s church”. There is a “huge problem of disconnect in the Church between bishops and priests, priests and the people, Rome and Ireland”.
Fr Hoban blames “a debilitating clericalist culture and an overly-centralised organisational structure” for a “deeper malaise in the Catholic Church”.