Ending forced celibacy and ordaining female priests are among the reforms needed to address the shortage of Catholic priests in Ireland, an influential lobby group has said.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) warned that if the decline in the number of serving priests is not halted then members of the faith in Ireland face the prospect of being denied church weddings and christenings.
The ACP, which has roughly 1,000 members, said that sacraments could disappear in some parishes as the retirement and death rate among priests far exceeds the recruitment of new clerics.
Fr Tim Hazelwood, a spokesman for the ACP, said the Catholic Church "faced a catastrophic situation" and that priests were an "endangered species."
"We're facing a really bleak future unless new measur es are brought in," he said ahead of the ACP's annual meeting today (Wednesday).
The ACP has said that the Catholic Church must embrace radical reforms such as allowing priests to marry and to admit female members as clerics.