Pope Benedict is said to be planning some "dramatic" changes for the Irish Church, according to the influential Irish Catholic newspaper columnist David Quinn and leading Irish theologian Father Vincent Twomey.

Changes could include significantly reducing the number of dioceses and replacing most of the current bishops, reports the Irish Examiner.

Founder of the Catholic Iona Institute David Quinn reported in the Irish Catholic that "rumours" are circulating in Rome that the Vatican is planning a "radical restructuring" of the hierarchy in response to the sex-abuse scandal.

He said "we should hope and pray" that the Vatican follows through, as an upheaval is needed if the Church in Ireland is to have any hope of recovery.



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Quinn stated that the next appointment to Archbishop of Armagh, and essentially head of the church in Ireland, is critical. He called for a new generation of leaders, recalling that Pope John Paul 11 was only 43 when he took over as Archbishop of Krakow.

He said current the incumbent in Armagh, Cardinal Sean Brady, has been deeply compromised because of the pedophile scandal.

He wrote: “The crucial appointment would, of course, be to Armagh. Unfortunately Cardinal Brady has lost an enormous amount of public credibility because of his involvement in the Fr Brendan Smith case as a young priest in the 1970s. His talk of being 'a wounded healer' simply doesn't wash.

“Who would replace him? The temptation will be to appoint someone currently in their 60s, but if the best candidate cannot be found from among this age group the Vatican should consider skipping a generation, and seeking out someone in their late 40s or early 50s.

"The usual argument against doing this is that such a person will then be in office for too long. In normal circumstances that argument would wash. But we are in the middle of extraordinary circumstances and it is absolutely vital that the next Archbishop of Armagh is someone who inspires public confidence. It is worth keeping in mind also that Pope John Paul was made Archbishop of Krakow when he was only 43, and was elected Pope at the age of 58, which is young given that there is no retirement age for a Pope. So it can be done.”

Theologian and former student of Pope Benedict XVI, Fr Vincent Twomey, emeritus professor of moral theology at Maynooth seminary, has also suggested changes, saying that 26 dioceses is too many for such a small Catholic population.

"At the very most, 12 dioceses would be sufficient in Ireland, including a reduction of the size of the Archdiocese of Dublin to the present county boundaries," he has said.

Twomey has also suggested that every Irish bishop appointed before 2003 should resign, claiming that the Church in Ireland has been without any effective leadership for the last 15 years.