Mr Buttimer, who is gay, said during a debate in Trinity College Dublin on the future of the Catholic Church that the church had signalled a change of direction since Pope Benedict XVI stepped down a year ago this week to be replaced by Pope Francis.
He said Christian understanding was exhibited far better in Catholic communities than in the hierarchy, and there was now a need for a third Vatican council dealing with the issues of morality and sexuality, as the current model of morality was from a different society.
He praised Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for sending a “message of conciliation, of tolerance and respect” to the gay community, in remarks made on RTÉ Radio One last week.
Pope Francis had indicated a similar message recently when he spoke to the world’s media.
“You have to have the hope that the man at the top can lead that change,” he told students. “We now need a church that reflects the values we now have of love, of peace and of justice.”
Archbishop Martin was supposed to have chaired the debate but was unable to attend.
Mr Buttimer was speaking in favour of a motion at the TCD Historical Society that “The Catholic Church can be salvaged”.
He said Fr Tony Flannery, who also spoke in favour of the motion, was heralding a more “respectful Christianity”.
He also believed it was important to distinguish between the hierarchy of the church and ordinary clergy.
Mr Buttimer said he came to the debate as somebody who spent five years in a seminary and had retained his faith despite the scandals engulfing the church.
He believed there was now a possibility of a church that “puts the people first”.
Fr Tony Flannery, who has been out of ministry for two years, said his own experience showed that the Catholic Church was wedded to a “16th century notion of justice”.
“They accused me, they passed judgment on me before I knew it was even happening. It was a totally corrupt system that bears no relation to moral notions of justice and human rights.”
He said the church could be salvaged because of the election of Pope Francis. He described that election as a “miracle”, given that those who elected Cardinal Bergoglio were old, conservative men, handpicked by the two previous popes, yet they would appear to have elected a “radical thinker”.
Sinéad O’Connor said God, who spoke through the prophets, and Jesus Christ were never interested in religion. She described Jesus as a “militantly anti-religious man”.
She cited numerous biblical texts, and said the very notion that the Catholic Church could be salvaged was entirely against Christ’s teaching.
“The end of religion is the core of Christ’s message. The idea to believe that any Christian church will survive is the opposite to Christ’s revelation,” she said.
“Christ will survive Catholicism. He never needed it in the first place. It was nothing but an obstacle.”