The Bishops of Ireland believe their flock have become a ‘nation of pagans’ according to a new report issued by the Association of Catholic Priests.

The body polled its membership to discover the true feelings of Ireland’s bishops and priests on the laity.

The Irish Examiner reports on the findings of the poll which suggest that the majority of bishops believe Irish people have succumbed to the ‘evils of materialism and consumerism’ of the Celtic Tiger era.

The ACP report also states that 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 the clerical sex abuse scandals.

The ACP report claims that a substantial number of bishops and some priests 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.

It says: “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.

“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 paper says the ACP also found that the vast majority of priests believe the controversial New Missal is ‘very unsatisfactory’.

The ACP report has been published after the first of a series of nationwide meetings with priest councils.

It says bishops believe that evangelisation and re-education is needed but the ACP again warned against relying on ageing priests to renew the Church.

ACP founder Fr Tony Flannery has told the paper that without urgent action, Ireland could be without priests within 20 years.

He said: “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.

“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.”

The paper adds that the ACP proposes bringing back those who left the priesthood to get married.