Three days ago, we reported the case of Fr. Tony Flannery, a priest in Ireland who said he will refuse to be silenced by the Vatican on a variety of issues in the Church, including homosexuality. We applauded his spirit of courage and fortitude.
Since then, Fr. Flannery has held a press conference, published an op-ed in The Irish Times, and has received support from his Redemptorist community and from Irish and Austrian priests.
An Irish Times news story of the press conference reported the scope of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) investiagation of the priest:
“Fr. Flannery told a press conference in Dublin yesterday he had been threatened with excommunication by the CDF for refusing to recant his more liberal views on church teachings concerning women priests, contraception and homosexuality.”
According to the BBC.com, at the press conference, Fr. Flannery stated that signing the loyalty pledge that the Vatican has asked for would violate his conscience:
” ‘It would mean that I was saying that I accept the teaching on contraception, which I have been on record for a long time saying that I thought Humanae Vitae (official Catholic teaching on procreation) was a big mistake,’ Fr Flannery told the media.
“He claimed that accepting the pledge would also mean that he ‘fully accepted all the teaching on homosexuality’ including the church’s use of what he called ‘some of the awfully unfortunate phrases – like disordered state and intrinsic evil.’ “
A press release from Fr. Flannery’s press conference contained this reflection from the priest:
“The choice facing him, he stated at a press briefing today, Sunday 20th January, was between deciding between Rome and his conscience.
“ ‘I must also question if the threats are a means, not just of terrifying me into submission, but of sending a message to any other priest expressing views at variance with those of the Roman Curia,’ he added. ‘Submitting to these threats would be a betrayal of my ministry, my fellow priests and the Catholic people who want change.’
“Fr. Flannery said that because he believes he is being subjected to unfair treatment, he has taken legal advice under Canon and Civil law to help him defend his rights as a member of the Church and as an Irish citizen.”
In the op-ed in The Irish Times, Fr. Flannery gives a summary of the development of his ministry, the need for discussion in the church, the difficult proceedings with the Vatican, and concludes with a statement of resolve:
“There are people who will say I should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church – one more suitable to my stance. Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity. I have tried to preach the gospel. 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. He made friends with the outcasts of society, and I will do whatever I can in my own small way to oppose the current Vatican trend of creating a church of condemnation rather than one of compassion.”
A 66-year old member of the Redemptorist community, Fr. Flannery received strong support in a statement from his brothers in faith. The BBC report noted:
“In a statement, the Irish Redemptorist order said it was ‘deeply saddened by the breakdown in communication’ between its priest and the CDF.
“It described Fr. Flannery as ‘highly regarded and respected by many in Ireland’ and added that there was a ‘very lively spirit of debate and dialogue’ within the order.
“The statement said that although it did not accept the priest’s views on all matters, it understood and supported his efforts to listen to and articulate the views of people he met during the course of his ministry.
” ‘It is of immense regret that some structures or processes of dialogue have not yet been found in the Church which have a greater capacity to engage with challenging voices from among God’s people, while respecting the key responsibility and central role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,’ the statement said.”
Priestly support came, too, from the members of the Association of Catholic Priests, an Irish organization that Fr. Flannery helped to found. The Association’s statement, in part, read:
“The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) affirms in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Fr Tony Flannery as he strives to clear his name and we wish to protest against unjust treatment he has received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The ACP supports Fr. Flannery in his efforts to resist the undermining of his integrity as an individual, a priest and a member of the Redemptorist Order.
“The effort to depict him as ‘disloyal’ and ‘dissident’ is unwarranted and unfair, but also extremely ill-advised in the present pastoral context in Ireland.
“The ACP is disturbed by the procedures evident in this case: the unwillingness to deal directly with the accused person; the injunction to secrecy; the presumption of guilt; the lack of due process. They suggest a callousness and even brutality that is in sharp contrast to the compassion of Jesus Christ.”
And he has even received support from Austrian priests who are working towards the same goals as he. The Irish Times reported:
“Also at yesterday’s press conference was Fr. Helmut Schuller of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative. He was ‘very surprised they [CDF] came down on Tony and on Ireland.’ He criticised the ‘lack of basic rights and respect for personal conscience’ in the church.”
We continue to praise Fr. Flannery and to pray that his example will inspire other priests and other Catholics to follow their consciences as forthrightly as he has.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry