Irish bishops, visiting Pope Francis in Rome this week, have been slammed for not asking the Holy Father to consider allowing married men to become priests.

The Association of Catholics in Ireland said ending the celibacy requirement for priests would be a solution to the chronic shortage of priests in the church.

But a spokesman said the Association, which is a group of lay Catholics, is “frustrated” at a decision by the bishops not to raise the issue. “They are sticking their heads in the sand, hoping the problem will go away,” the spokesman said.

Migration, economic austerity, secularism, clerical sex abuse, falling Mass attendances and a decline in priesthood vocations are some of the issues being touched on by 26 Irish bishops from every diocese in Ireland during their 10-day visit to the Holy See which started on Monday.

But, when they have an audience on Friday with Pope Francis, the one issue they will not touch is celibacy.

It is an “ad limina” visit that takes place many years apart. It represents in some ways an opportunity for far-off branches of the church to report directly to head office.

The last Irish ad limina was in 2006, and it will be several years before there will be another.

Following a listening process last year in Kilmore diocese, Bishop Leo O’Reilly proposed to set up a commission to examine the issue of celibacy.

O’Reilly was said to be reacting positively to the urging of Pope Francis when he was speaking about the shortage of priests. The Holy Father said local bishops are best acquainted with the needs of the faithful and should be courageous and bring concrete suggestions for reform to Rome.

But O’Reilly’s proposal will not be submitted to the Pope following an “inconclusive discussion” on celibacy among the other bishops.

Noel McCann of the Association of Catholics in Ireland observed that many Irish parishes were already without daily Mass because of the shortage of priests.

“The crisis is clear. What is causing the crisis is clear, but what are we doing about solutions? Where is the urgency in terms of addressing the issue?” he asked.

Pope Francis.iStock