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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 00:38 GMT 01:38 UK

World: Europe

Irish council calls for church reform

Cork Council wants to see the Catholic Church ordain women

The local authority for Ireland's largest county has called on the Roman Catholic Church to make the vow of celibacy for priests and nuns optional - to reverse the trend of falling vocations.

Church authorities should view the dwindling numbers entering religious life as "an urgent matter", according to a motion passed unanimously by Cork County Council at its monthly meeting.

The Church should also consider ordaining women, it said.

Councillor Conor O'Callaghan, who proposed the motion, said the council should use its weight to press for radical reform of the church, and added that the current trend could also damage local communities.

'Priests play a valuable role'

"Apart from spiritual and moral guidance given by priests, they perform a significant role in the social and semi-economic life of a community", he said.

"They deal with many problems and are involved in many organisations that help make up a community.

"It is a very valuable role and if that is eroded it will be felt very badly."

He said: "I am not proposing an argument on behalf of the Church. I am simply expressing a view held by the vast majority of the Irish people."

Support for women priests

The number of priests ordained last year was just a sixth of the number who took Holy Orders nearly 30 years ago, said Mr O'Callaghan.

Almost half the priests in Ireland were at retirement age, and with high numbers of younger priests abandoning their vocation the clerical population in Ireland was expected to drop drastically over the next 10 years.

Three people in every five in Ireland currently back calls for the Church to ordain women as priests and Mr O'Callaghan believed similar numbers were in favour of allowing priests to marry.

The motion was passed without a dissenting voice at Monday's meeting of the Council. A spokesman for Cork County Council said: "It's not normal council business."

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