Irish Catholics have set up a new lay group for those committed to the reform and renewal of the Church in Ireland.

The Irish Times
reports that 15p attended the launch of the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI).

The report says that new group intends to provide a voice for lay Catholics in the same way that the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) does for the clergy.

The group was initiated by the ACP along with organiser Noel McCann who has spent 12 months setting up a steering committee and website.

McCann told the paper that there is a realisation among many Catholics that the Church was in crisis and that the pews on Sundays were emptying of young people.

He said: “Lay people have very good reasons not to be happy but I am hopeful that Pope Francis will signal a different approach which would involve the laity in the way envisaged by Vatican II.

“We have lost one generation and we will probably lose the next generation if we don’t do something about it. What will the Church be like in 20 to 30 years time? If the laity doesn’t stand up and be counted, you’d fear for the future.”

Issues agreed for discussion at the opening meeting included the lack of a voice among the laity within the Church, how the Church could provide a voice for young people being forced to emigrate and the sanctions imposed on clergy who speak out against the Church on certain issues.

The report adds that Sr Cora Richardson, a former missionary nun who is in favour of women priests, was applauded when she asked the question: “Are women Catholics or not? Are they part of the Church or not?”

Another delegate Soline Humbert told the meeting that there is gender apartheid with the Church and that she had a ‘personal sense of vocation towards the priesthood which was not recognised because the Catholic Church does not recognise women priests’.

Applause followed when Redemptorist priest Fr Stan Mellett asked: “Is Jesus about justice or about worship?”

The current abortion was not discussed at the meeting.

Organiser McCann told the paper that he was glad the subject was not raised.

He said: “It would divert us from the main business of the day which was the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and the laity.”

The group now aims to establish and organise ACI groups in local parishes and regions to promote its objectives.

New poll shows 82 percent of the adult Irish Catholics said they believed in God, but only 34 percent attend a church service or mass weeklyGetty