Research, commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), in Ireland, has found that a large majority of Irish Catholics want women and married priests, liberal clergymen and support gay marriage.

Father Tony Flannery, one of the ACPs founding members, was recently silenced by the Vatican for voicing his liberal views, in the religious publication Reality. The 800-strong association says they have the Irish public’s support to start an open dialogue with Pope Benedict. The association has said it has a mandate from Irish Mass-goes to raise their concerns about the disconnect between the Church’s teachings and what Catholics believe.

According to the association’s survey:
- nine out of ten Catholics believe priests should be allowed to marry
-77 percent of Irish Catholics believe that women should be ordained as priests
- 75 percent did not see that the Church’s teaching on sexuality were relevant
-60 percent disagreed with the Catholic Church’s stance “that any sexual expression of love between gay couples is immoral”

The survey, carried out by Amarach Research, was taken over a two-week period this February, in the north and south of Ireland. Of the participants 35 percent attend Mass once a week, 51 percent go once a month and only five percent never attend.

Father Brendan Hoban, from the ACP, said the association believes in the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church and are no planning a breakaway from Rome.

He told the Irish Independent “We are not dissident priests. There are not 815 dissident priests.
"We are reflecting what we are hearing in parishes and have heard in parishes for years."
Their survey puts statistics behind anecdotal evidence. Their parishioners have made it clear they want change in the Vatican.

The ACP said its all-Ireland survey put statistics behind anecdotal evidence that parishioners want change from the heart of Rome.

Referring to the Vatican’s silencing of Flannery who was sent to spend six weeks in a monastery for spiritual and theological reflection.

Hoban said “We think it's not the way the church should go about doing its business.
"There are differences and there are problems and I think the way to face them is not by silencing the messengers, but teasing out what the message is.

"We are disturbed by that sort of blunt kind of reason to questions we are asking."

The Mayo parish priest said the real problems in Ireland’s Catholic Church will come when their aging clergy has retired, in about 20 years time.

He said there’s no reason why a married man should not be ordained. He also said that priest who have up to 40 years of service with the Church feel that they have the right to raise questions which they feel need to be addressed by the Vatican.

Hoban said “We are operating this for the good of the Church, we love the Church, we want to be in the Church.

“We have questions about the Church. But like any family, you don't turf out the guy who says there's an elephant in the living room.

“You don't put him out the door. You bring him in and talk to him.”

What CPA wants is a Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, aimed at addressing the relations between Rome and the modern world.

He explained “We want to talk about [the issues], discuss them and bring people's needs and rights to the heart of this dialogue."

View the full findings of the Association of Catholic Priests here.

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