The country's Catholic bishops have been celebrating mass together in Rome's Irish College ahead of ten days of meetings with Vatican authorities, the high point of which will be a meeting with Pope Francis next Friday.

The Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) has expressed deep disappointment that the bishops have shelved a proposal to consider ending mandatory celibacy for priests ahead of their discussion with the pope.

All national hierarchies must visit the pope every five years to report on the state of their dioceses.

The Irish bishops' emergency meeting with Pope Benedict on the child abuse scandals in 2010 was the last time they saw a pope together.

Representatives of all 26 dioceses have arrived in Rome and are scheduled to meet the pope mid-way through their series of meetings with Vatican officials.

Last week it emerged that a proposal from Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly that the hierarchy establish a commission to examine doing away with mandatory priestly celibacy and permitting women to be ordained as deacons had been shelved because his fellow-bishops failed to reach a consensus.

The proposals had emerged from a lengthy listening process in Kilmore.

Bishop O'Reilly has said the issues may come up when the bishops collectively meet the pope on Friday.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic newspaper, he added that they may also feature during the next nine days of meetings with senior Vatican officials, which begin tomorrow.

A spokesperson for the Irish bishops has said that Pope Francis will address the 29-strong delegation during the audience and a reply on behalf of the bishops will be delivered by Archbishop Eamon Martin, the President of the Irish Bishops' Conference.

Lamenting the hierarchy's failure to propose what it calls the "radical" reforms to the pontiff, the Association of Catholics in Ireland commended Bishop O'Reilly's efforts, saying they resembled its own proposals to Rome two years ago.

It warns that the growing shortage of priests needs to be addressed urgently to ensure access by Catholics here to the Eucharist in the years ahead, adding that married clergy would bring the warmth and richness of their lived experience to their pastoral ministry.

In a statement, the ACI said that the high percentage of priests over 65 years of age in Ireland and the low intake of seminarians suggest that in ten years' time many parishes will be without a resident priest.

It says that already the clustering of parishes has resulted in some parishes being without a daily mass and on selected weekdays only having prayer services without distribution of Holy Communion and that this is upsetting  parishioners, particularly daily mass-goers.

The ACI also praises Bishop O'Reilly for reacting positively to the urging of Pope Francis who, it recalls, has underlined that local bishops are best acquainted with the needs of Catholic believers where the shortage of priests is concerned and should courageously bring concrete suggestions for reform to Rome.

They also point out that the question of celibacy is already being discussed at the highest levels in the Vatican. And that in September 2013, the Holy See's Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that celibacy is not a dogma of faith and that "it can be debated because it is an ecclesiastical (church) tradition".

The Association of Catholics in Ireland describes itself as an organisation that is committed to the pursuit of a reform and renewal agenda in the Irish Catholic Church in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council which was convened unexpectedly by Pope John XXIII in 1962.

It drew together all Catholic prelates and many observers from other Christian churches, in discussions on the state of Catholicism in the contemporary world.