Moves to establish an Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland have received substantial support from clergy, missionaries and members of religious orders, according to the group which has been taking soundings on the idea.

It has planned a meeting of interested colleagues for mid-September in Portlaoise to decide whether a set of aims can be agreed.

Among the factors that the group says prompted it to act was ‘the increasingly strained relationship between priests and their bishops’.

In 2007, the National Conference of Priests dissolved itself, leaving the 6,500 priests under the jurisdiction of the Irish church without a representative body.

The hierarchy expressed its regret and consulted leaders of most diocesan priests' councils.

But no proposal emerged to fill the vacuum until late last month when nine priests met in Athlone to explore the options.

According to a statement, they decided it would be impossible to represent all priests given the diversity of clerical opinion.

Among the aims drafted for wider discussion was ‘the need to restore a positive relationship between bishops and priests’.

One of the drafters, Tony Flannery, told RTÉ News that a tension and a distance had developed between the two groups as a result of the management of allegations of clerical child sexual abuse.

The statement says early indications suggest that there is a substantial body of support among Irish priests for what is being proposed.

A spokesman for the bishops welcomed any initiative to organise priests' voices, especially in these challenging times for Catholics dominated by the clerical abuse crisis.