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Irish priests want lapsed Catholics to toe the line

A straw poll of priests in each of Ireland's 31 dioceses found most believed church teachings banning unwed partners from receiving communion should be enforced.

Earlier this month, two priests in county Kerry refused the sacrament to the unmarried parents of children making their first communion, and the week before, a Dublin priest declined to baptise a child weeks before her Holy Communion on the grounds that her mother was a non-practising Catholic.

But Bishop Thomas Flynn, the secretary of the church's education commission in Ireland, maintains that banning unmarried couples from taking communion was pointless. "You have to ask: are you going to achieve much?" the bishop said.

Several priests on the ground, however, see it differently. Almost one in three said canon law should be enforced more rigorously. One priest said: "We need to get tougher. Just tell people what the regulations are.

"They're no use to you if they are public sinners. They don't understand what the communion is about. It's the same with Catholics taking communion in a Protestant church. The dunderheads in the media, as well as the dunderheads in the pew, don't know the difference," he continued.

The church has been buoyed by increased attendances at Sunday mass and a slight rise in vocations, albeit from a low base, over the past year. Half the priests surveyed said the church did not need to get tougher, but that it should accept social change. "Mostly, people just drift. They don't consciously turn their backs on the church. We shouldn't exclude them," said a Waterford priest. All the contributors asked to remain anonymous.

A priest in the Limerick diocese said the Kerry priests' decision reflected a sense among priests that Catholics no longer took responsibility for their actions. "There is no sense in being part of a community, when people look down on the institutional church. There is no accountability any more, and a lot of priests are feeling used."

Sunday Times