Ireland's Association of Catholic Priests is pushing for reform in the Catholic Church, calling for the ordination of women and an end to mandatory celibacy at a meeting held in Dublin early this month.

The liberal group has only been in existence for one year, but the growth of the association has been rapid with 540 Irish priests opting for membership. In its first year, the group opposed the new translation of the Roman Missal and appealed to the Irish bishops' conference to delay the introduction of the changes. The hierarchy dismissed the concerns.

At the Oct 4-5 meeting, Fr. Kevin Hegarty, a member of the association’s leadership team, said what was needed was a church that would open its doors to "married priests and women priests."

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Hegarty said that church structures were a barrier to conversation and “despite the promise of the Second [Vatican] Council ... the church in Ireland failed to evolve a strategy that could learn from and contribute to the new consciousness.” An authoritarian hierarchical structure “is contemptuous of intellectual challenge and is fearful of leaps of the imagination. The consequences have flowed.”


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One priest attending the meeting, Dominican Fr. Wilfrid J. Harrington, said he was motivated to join the association because of “the betrayal of Vatican II over the past 30 years.”

“I now know, from our meeting, that Vatican II is not dead. Now I am aware that I belong to a sizable group of priests, diocesan and religious who still believe in Vatican II. And, happily and vitally, not only clergy, but very many lay women and men.

“After our [annual general meeting] I confidently expect that membership of the Association of Catholic Priests will grow substantially,”

However, not all Irish priests longing for reform are happy with the association.

Fr. Paddy McCafferty, a survivor of clerical abuse and an outspoken critic of the Irish hierarchy, says that the group is “not prophetic in the true scriptural sense.”

He insists that the group cannot claim to be a “loyal opposition” because it is “not loyal at any level and pushing its own agenda all the time.”

“To be loyal to the church is to expose evil for the good of the church,” McCafferty said, adding that he “utterly rejects” the Association of Catholic Priests as “having anything truthful or constructive to offer in the current crises afflicting the church.”

The Association of Catholic Priests makes no apologies.

Said Fr. Brendan Hoban, another member of the leadership team: “The Association of Catholic Priests does not intend to water down its objectives in order to attract a larger membership."