The organisation has urged priests not to tell their parishioners how they should vote

The Association of Catholic Priests has adopted a neutral position on the same-sex marriage referendum in Ireland and urged priests not to instruct their parishioners on how they should vote in May.

The group of priests, with a membership of about 1,000, issued a statement saying: “After a consultation with our members, the results of which indicated clearly a wide range of views, the Association of Catholic Priests has decided not to adopt a position in favour or against the marriage equality referendum.”

The statement added: “Sexual orientation does not debar anyone from God’s love. If as priests we are speaking on this matter, we need to remember that the use of intemperate language can cause deep hurt among gay people and their families, as well as doing further damage to an already ailing church.”

They concluded: ““We look forward to a debate that will be characterised by freedom of speech and respectful listening so that the best result for the Irish people might be reached” and said that their priests had a particular responsibility to “not to direct their parishioners to vote Yes or No.”

An opinion poll published in the Irish Times last year found more than two thirds of voters would back same-sex marriage in a referendum.