A founding member of a group representing over 1,000 Catholic priests has said the time is not right for the Pope to visit Ireland, as there are too many existing problems in the Irish Church.

Speculation has been growing that a historic papal visit could take place in the near future, following recent comments from the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown.

But a spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests said he believes a high-profile visit by Pope Francis would hamper their efforts to bring about reforms and changes in the Church.

Fr. Brendan Hoban, a founding member of the group, said: "A papal visit is exactly what the Irish Church doesn't need at the moment, because it would distract us from tackling the issues which we need to put right.

"Problems which need to be resolved, like the vocations crisis, would be camouflaged by a papal visit. And all the time, effort and expense involved in organizing the visit would set us back from doing what needs to be done.

"I've certainly no objection to the Pope visiting at some stage in the future, but the timing isn't right at the moment."

Hoban also said he believes Pope Francis himself would prefer that the huge sums of money involved in funding an elaborate papal visit to this country would be spent on helping those in need.

He said: "Pope Francis isn't into hype and jamborees. He doesn't like them and avoids them if possible. He would prefer that money to be spent on the poor and the homeless than on a papal visit."

The Co. Mayo-based priest also called on Catholic Church leaders to open up dialogue with the ACP's members to find lasting and realistic solutions to the vocations crisis.

He warned that unless radical new changes are implemented, hundreds of parishes across the country could be forced to be closed.

He said: "Unless the bishops make changes, we're facing a catastrophic situation in the next 10 to 20 years, because there simply won't be enough priests to say Mass to our people. And if you haven't got Mass, then you no longer have a Church."

Solutions to the crisis, which have been identified by the ACP, include ordaining married men, inviting back former clerics who've left the priesthood to get married and ordaining women to the diaconate.