Curia is stifling debate on church reform, says silenced priest


THE VATICAN is an “ever-present elephant in the room” for those within the Catholic Church who wish to discuss reform, a priest silenced by the Vatican has said.

He said: “It would appear that we are returning to an authoritarian era where the church will meet its problems, not by discussion and open investigation but by decree. Fr Tony Flannery is the latest to learn this lesson.”

The Redemptorist priest Fr Flannery was silenced by the Vatican because of his views on contraception, celibacy and women’s ordination, and has been advised by Rome to go to a monastery for a period where he would “pray and reflect”.

It also instructed Fr Flannery and the editor of Reality magazine, Fr Gerard Moloney, to desist from publishing articles on these issues, and called on Fr Flannery to withdraw from the Association of Catholic Priests.

The priest added: “It is not possible to speak about reform in the church, be it in Ireland or elsewhere, without bearing in mind the ever-present elephant in the room, namely the Roman curia and the papacy,” the priest, known to The Irish Times, said.

He said that Roman control of the church is now “more centralised and rigid than ever before. It would seem that they now demand total conformity with papal ideas and ideals in all things and not merely in those which are essential to the unity of the Catholic and Christian faith.”

He said “it has come to a point where the bishop of Rome is regarded less as a bond of unity and charity in the church than as an oracular figure to be reverenced in his person with quasi-sacramental fervour. It becomes a tyranny whenever it successfully creates an atmosphere in which open inquiry and honest dissent are construed as disloyalty or worse.”

This, the priest said, was “a form of fundamentalism” which “trivialises debate, particularly in the theological field by reducing all issues to questions of authority and obedience”.

He felt that from the controversy which followed Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical banning artificial means of contraception, there had been “a damaging ambiguity over whether the substantive issue was contraception or papal authority”.

The same had happened “to such topics as infallibility, the role of women in the church”, he said.

“One is left with the impression that these areas are simply off-limits to any Catholic who cannot guarantee that his or her findings will support the contemporary conservative Roman position.”