The Vatican has moved to quash a direct challenge to its rule of priestly celibacy by insisting that a senior Irish bishop recants his dissident views and agree to silence on the issue in future.
The dispute is unprecedented in recent years in that a disagreement between senior figures in the Catholic Church is being conducted so openly.
The Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, has been summoned to Rome after calling on the Church to re-examine its traditional opposition to priests marrying. The Vatican is understood to be demanding that the bishop retracts and give an undertaking never to speak openly on the subject in future.
It is also expected to try to impose a wider gag on Bishop Comiskey forcing him agree never to speak out on issues embarrassing to Church authorities. The bishop is expected to travel to Rome next month where he will appear before Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, who as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops is one of the Vatican's most senior officials.
Bishop Comiskey said at the weekend he would happily defend his views in Rome. He accused Church authorities of leaking to the media confidential correspondence criticising him.