A report from the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) also claims there is a strong view among ecclesiastical authorities that falling vocations and Mass attendance figures are a result of people “not having time or interest in faith”, rather than as a result of any of the clerical sex abuse scandals to rock the Church.
It also found the vast majority of priests believe the controversial New Missal is “very unsatisfactory”.
The ACP report, published yesterday after its first series of nationwide meetings with priest councils, said the bishops believe that evangelisation and re-education is needed — but it warned against relying on ageing priests to renew the Church.
“The age, lack of energy, tiredness of priests was very obvious. Expecting these men to bring about any real change was clearly not living in the real world. Keeping the show on the road for another few years is the most that can be expected from most of them.”
ACP founder Fr Tony Flannery has warned that without urgent action, Ireland could be without priests within 20 years.
“They [the bishops] don’t seem to grasp the urgent need to tackle falling vocations which could see most Irish parishes without a Catholic priest within 20 years. It’s not true of them all. We had an excellent meeting with [Archbishop of Dublin] Dr Diarmuid Martin and some of the bishops were quite open to our suggestions.
“But we are facing a crisis — a situation where there will be no priests in this country within 20 years. And we can’t claim then that we didn’t see it coming. What is most striking though is that there is no sense of urgency to do something about it.”
In its report, the ACP said the present paradigm of priesthood is no longer working and proposed bringing back those men who left the priesthood to get married, and choosing viri probati (mature men of standing) in the parishes to undergo the same training used for the diaconate.
However, the ACP said there was disagreement about its analysis.
The report said there seems to be a substantial number of bishops, and some priests, who believe that the problems facing the Church are not due to any difficulties in the Church or with the priesthood, but are caused by a lack of faith in the people.
“The people, they told us, have bought into the evils of materialism and consumerism, and don’t have time or interest in faith any more,” said the report.
“They have, to all intents and purposes, become pagan. And they believe that ‘evangelisation’ is the answer. It is a convenient belief, in that the blame lies elsewhere than among ourselves. We consider there are real problems here for the Irish Church.
“If there are such radically different understandings of the current situation, it is hard to see how we can make headway in working towards a solution.”
The report also said that almost every priest agreed the New Missal was “very unsatisfactory” and “a hindrance” in the proper celebration of the Eucharist.
“One or two bishops tried to defend it, but most also agreed that it was not a good development,” said the report.