The Association of Catholic Priests has called for all groups within the Irish church to join in planning how to save it from "effective collapse" in 20 years' time.

The ACP has asked the hierarchy to join priests and lay-people to discuss the future of the church in light of the decline in the number of priests.

It has called for the reality of the situation to be communicated to Rome and for space to be created at parish, diocesan and national level for discussion of the crisis.

Primate of All Ireland Seán Brady has been told that clerical gatherings are often characterised by dejection, depression and, sometimes, almost despair.

The ACP said there is energy, vibrancy and enthusiasm when lay-people attend assemblies with clergy.

It is disappointed that its request for a meeting with the Bishops' Conference on the crisis has been turned down.

It accepts Pope Benedict's call for the "renewal" of the church in Ireland and his emphasis on the opportunities offered by the upcoming "Year of Faith".

Last week, the hierarchy responded that bishops' engagement with the ACP would best take place at local level by using established structures such as the Councils of Priests.