The Vatican is threatening to dismiss an Irish priest from the Redemptorist order who has unorthodox views on the question of women priests and contraception. Fr Tony Flannery was told nearly a year ago he was suspended from his ministry in County Galway. He was advised to go to a monastery and in the Latin expression credited to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, to think with the church: “sentire cum ecclesia”. He had been a founding member of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland in autumn 2010. Now the 66 year-old cleric who was ordained in 1975 has been given an ultimatum by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. According to the Irish Times, he told a news conference in Dublin he will only be allowed back into ministry if he writes, signs and publishes an article – to be pre-approved by the CDF – accepting that the Catholic Church can never ordain women to the priesthood and accepting all church stances on contraception, homosexuality, as well as the refusal of the sacraments to people in second relationships.
As Fr Flannery himself summed up his situation: “I either put my name to a document that would be a lie, and would impugn my integrity and my conscience, or I face the reality of never again ministering as a priest”. Fr Flannery says he believes the real aim of the CDF is to suppress the Association of Catholic Priests. But he is adamant that “no matter what sanctions the Vatican imposes on me I will continue, in whatever way I can, to try to bring about reform in the church and to make it again a place where all who want to follow Christ will be welcome”.
The letters columns in the Irish Times contains a number of responses to the situation the priest finds himself in. From another rebel cleric self-styled “Bishop” Pat Buckley from Larne came the following: “Sir, – Twenty-six years ago they came for me and no one did anything. Today they have come for Fr Tony Flannery. Tomorrow they will come for you”. A lay group called We Are Church Ireland will be staging a vigil at the Papal Nunciature in Dublin on Sunday 27th January at 3pm in support of the Redemptorist. A representative of the group also welcomed the statement from Fr Flannery’s order. They said although not all Redemptorists would accept Fr Flannery’s views on all matters, they do understand and support his efforts to listen carefully to and at times to articulate the views of people he encounters in the course of his ministry. They expressed the hope that even at this late stage, an agreed resolution could be found. Update: THIS STATEMENT TO WHICH I HAD PROVIDED A LINK HAS NOW BEEN REPLACED ON THE IRISH CONGREGATION’S WEBSITE BY A NEW STATEMENT FROM THE SUPERIOR GENERAL (see below).
One correspondent from County Dublin however poses the following question: why does Fr Tony not have the courage of his convictions by officially becoming a Protestant? The writer claims that the cleric’s views are Protestant ones, not Catholic. Fr Tony certainly finds himself now with a very difficult choice to make. Many non-Catholics might be left wondering whether the curia in Rome is more intent on expelling turbulent priests who disagree with some church teachings, rather than cracking down on the problem of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland and elsewhere, which remained hidden for so many years.
In further developments, the Rome-based Superior of the Redemptorist Order, Fr Michael Brehl C.Ss.R., has said he deeply regrets the recent actions by Fr Flannery who as mentioned earlier, had held a news conference in Dublin. The full statement by Fr Brehl in which he asks Fr Flannery to renew efforts to find an agreed solution to the concerns raised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can be found here, replacing a statement issued earlier in the week by Fr Flannery’s confreres in the Irish Province.
In the Irish Times, Patsy McGarry reports that documents seen by the paper confirm that Fr Flannery was threatened with excommunication by the Vatican. It looks like there will be more developments in this case over the next few months.