God’s Labrador and a turbulent priest
The attempted silencing of Fr Tony Flannery was tragic. The censure of Brian D’Arcy verged on the ridiculous
The book is a revealing document of how the Vatican silences unruly priests. Flannery outlines the details of the inquisitorial ordeal he has been through in recent years, behind closed doors, and how, when his intellectual errors were identified, he was ordered to pray, accept the teachings of the church and publicly confess his faith in the absolute truth of those teachings.
There is a notion in modern philosophy that nothing is absolutely true; things are true as far as they go, but it is in negotiating our way through the day that we become human. Catholic theology has no truck with such relativism. Catholic theology is mostly a medieval construct: it deals with “absolute truth” as that which is substantial, immutable and eternally true.
And apparently it is the burden of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to protect that truth from the liberal loolas who think Vatican II was a charter for free thinking. Absolute truth enjoys absolute rights, and it is therefore incumbent on those in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to police the rantings of wayward clerics such as Fr Flannery. He must be made to think with the mind of the church, not indulge himself in the arrogant notion that a man might think for himself.
This is the apparent reason Flannery was dragged over the coals by faceless men who initially communicated with him on unsigned bits of paper, outlining for him where they thought his thinking had gone wrong.
The invisible men
It all began when Fr Flannery started to get cryptic messages from unidentified minions in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was his own superiors who first relayed to him the messages coming from the invisible men. Apparently these masters of diplomacy in the congregation communicate on unsigned sheets of paper with no letterhead, much like terror organisations, ensuring that no email or phone recording will ever cast the shadow of their dead hand into the world. And the local bishops act as complicit mediators.
Over the years Flannery, in keeping with the theology of Vatican II, has reflected in stimulating ways on the nature of priesthood, and the importance of the Gospels in creating a new model of church, but he has not wavered a jot from the essential teachings of the Gospel.
And so the intellectual chess game that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forced him to play was trivial in its content, though not its consequences if Flannery didn’t sing the way they wanted. Excommunication was whispered somewhere along the line. For a man in his late years to be threatened with what would amount to losing his home and his job, and being expelled from the community to which he has devoted his life, would be a severe injustice and one worth testing in a civil court.