A leading advocate for reform in the Irish Catholic Church has conceded that trying to bring about meaningful change is "like beating one's head against a stone wall.”
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), which represents over 1,000 priests across the country, and a four-man delegation of Irish bishops are due to hold their first face-to-face talks in three years on Thursday.
But Father Tony Flannery, a founding member of the group, has admitted he fears the meeting is little more than a token gesture from church leaders and will not pave the way for significant reform.
Speaking ahead of the talks, which take place at Columba Center in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, the veteran Redemptorist said, "Experience leads me to have little hope or expectation from the meeting. I suspect the motivation of the Bishops Conference is to quieten us, and stop us from saying that they won't meet us."
Flannery, one of several clerics who have been “silenced” by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for his liberal views, also called for ongoing dialogue between the clergy and church authorities to tackle the ever-worsening vocations crisis.
Writing on his website tonyflannery.com, he said, "The ACP delegation is strong, and maybe they will be able to get something more useful out if [the meeting]. I hope so. But in order to be anyway worthwhile, it would have to be the first of a series of meetings. And that is unlikely.
"I think that it is fair to say that the Irish clergy, and indeed the Irish Church, are tired and demoralized. There is a terrible dearth of leadership. Trying to bring about any meaningful change seems more and more to me like beating one's head against a stone wall."
Flannery, 69, from Athenry, Co. Galway, was suspended from public ministry four years ago for his liberal views on women priests, homosexuality and contraception.
Although he has conceded he is unlikely to be allowed to practice as a priest again, he has since gained a high profile outside Ireland, particularly in the U.S. from where he often receives invitations to speak on church reform.
"At the international level so much more can be achieved and one also gets the sense of a universal church. I have learned about the situation for Catholics in India when they are in a mixed religion marriage. I have seen how the church in Germany and Austria has reached out to the refugees,” he wrote on his site.
"So, while I am conscious of the opportunities that the international reform movement has given me, much more than that I am grateful for the insights that I have received."