A top Irish priest has said the Catholic Church hierarchy has been burying its head in the sand over key issues.

If the current church regime continues, says Fr Joe McGuane, Mass attendance in Ireland will be reduced to just a few groups of old women.

Fr McGuane's comments came just as the relationship between the Church and Ireland hit a historic low after the country confirmed the forthcoming shutdown of its embassy in the Vatican.

The church's precarious economic situation could have some clerics "filling supermarket shelves at night or on the dole if they have bad backs," said the Youghal, Co Cork-based priest.

Fr McGuane, a chaplain at the St Raphael's Centre, said the Eucharistic Congress, to be held in Dublin next summer, was "designed as a distraction."

"Priests will have to drag themselves along to -- I suppose -- the Phoenix Park or Croke Park for a ridiculous jamboree, and dragoon as many parishioners as possible along with them," he told the Irish Independent.

He added that he took no pleasure in his negative assessment of the church's problems and said that the problems could be overcome "with honesty, courage, and transparency."


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He said that the Church needs to change its position on women priests.

"We are the only profession that excludes women; the only one who insists that it (the vocation) is for life.

"Unless we have married women, we will soon have tiny numbers.

"But then they will only be catering for a few, so I suppose there is no need to panic. Furthermore, there will be income only for a few.

"Is it any wonder we are in the mess we are in? Seventeen years after the late Brendan Smyth was convicted of child sexual abuse, not alone are we still at square one but we have actually gone backwards.

"This is because of our dearth of leadership," he said. "Our prelates are, by and large, incapable of initiative and innovation. They are almost entirely bereft of ideas. They have no idea what to do."

The Independent said that the Diocese of Cloyne have, so far, not responded to Fr McGuane's comments.

Fr McGuane insists that the problems facing the church started at the top.

"There have been proposals that all bishops appointed before Diarmuid Martin should resign. This would be useless while the present system of appointments is in place. Clones would replace them," he said.

"They, in turn, would appoint similar clones to all positions and their characteristic would be blind knee-jerk unconditional obedience, no matter how stupid the instruction."