BY MURRAY WHITE
WIDESPREAD SUPPORT for beleaguered Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns came in the form of a key newspaper poll in Ireland this week in which three out of four people said they supported married priests.
The poll came as there were signs of a thaw between Dr Comiskey and Ireland's primate, Cardinal Cahal Daly, over the bishop's calls for an open debate on the future of clergy celibacy.
A fortnight ago, sources in Rome indicated that Dr Comiskey was set to be the first Irish bishop in modem times to be imminently summoned to the Vatican to be reprimanded for his views. But this week he had yet to receive a formal written summons to Rome, according to his press spokesman Fr Walter Forde.
Bishop Comiskey earlier this week left for a summer holiday and was not expecting to be called to Rome during August, said Fr Forde. Indeed some clergy in Ireland have expressed the view that Dr Comiskey may not be summoned at all, following behind-the-scenes moves by Cardinal Daly to patch up differences with his fellow bishop which may acknowledge that Rome has badly handled the affair.
Archbishop Desmond Connell of Dublin is expected to act as an intermediary between Bishop Comiskey and Cardinal Daly to resolve their differences. If a resolution can be achieved internally it would remove the need for Bishop Comiskey to face a Vatican enquiry.
An overwhelming majority of Irish people back Dr Comiskey's calls for an open debate on celibacy, according to a poll in the Irish Times on Tuesday. Around 87 per cent of voters of all ages and classes backed the bishop's stand, while more than half also felt that the recent row was more about the right of individual bishops to speak their mind than strictly about clergy celibacy.
Despite the large backing for an end to clergy celibacy, more than two thirds felt that only the Pope could make the final decision on the matter.
More than four out of five backed the recent suggestion of Bishop Michael Murphy of Cork to hold a National Synod of laity, nuns, priests and bishops to discuss the issues facing the Irish Church.
But a spokesman for the Irish Episcopal Conference, Bishop Thomas Flynn, ruled out the possibility of a synod in the near future, saying he preferred a model of local study groups between clergy and laity currently being pioneered in some dioceses.
Traditionalist Catholic groups dismissed the poll's findings. Jerry O'Mahoney, of the Christian Community Centre in Dublin said: "Whilst Bishop Comiskey... presumably prayed intently before venturing his public pronouncements in conflict with our Pope, the said 87 per cent may not have had the same opportunity."