Father Tony Flannery, the 66 year old Irish priest and founding member of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland (ACP) who has been threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church for his outspokenness, has claimed this week that there is a link between clerical sex abuse and clerical celibacy.

Flannery said that the celibate lifestyles which priests were forced to live led to struggles over sexuality and could have resulted in children being sexually abused.

Priests faced an inevitable struggle with their sexuality, Flannery said.

'The Catholic Church in Ireland seems to believe that it has dealt with the problems of clerical sexual abuse by putting structures in place to protect children,' he said.

'Nobody within the official church has looked at the deeper issues and seriously asked the question why so many priests did these things because it raises fundamental questions about the lifestyle of priests.

'Can they say with any degree of definiteness that the fact that so many priests abused children is not connected to celibacy and clericalism and the whole style of life that a priest is forced to live?

'I don't think they can and until such time as the church authorities face up to that and seriously discuss it and investigate it, the problem will not go away.'

were forced to live in isolation and lacked real human interaction, Flannery said. The loneliness and frustration led some to 'turn to children for sexual outlets,' he maintained.

Flannery made his comments before launching his book A Question of Conscience which questions the Vatican watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), in the methods it uses to stamp out any challenge it regards as a dissent.

According to the International Business Times Flannery encountered official pushback in February 2012, when the CDF became concerned about some of his writings relating to the Church and summoned him to Rome, where he was ordered to step down as ACP leader.

Months later Flannery was ordered by the CDF to issue a statement saying that he believed women could never be ordained as priests and that he accepted all the moral teachings of the Church. He was then reportedly suspended from ministry and threatened with excommunication.

In his new book, to underscore how destabilizing the CDF found his statements, Flannery has published all the documentation from the CDF regarding his case.