Fr Tony Flannery disappointed at ‘silencing’ by bishop

Withdrawal of invitation an example of bishop using his authority to ‘lay down the law’

Fr Tony Flannery: “To find an Irish bishop extending the notion of ‘silencing’ to a talk in a community hall is very disappointing.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fr Tony Flannery: “To find an Irish bishop extending the notion of ‘silencing’ to a talk in a community hall is very disappointing.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A move by Bishop of Cloyne William Crean to prevent outspoken priest Fr Tony Flannery from giving a talk in his diocese was “surprising and depressing”, the priest has said.

In a statement issued on his website on Sunday, Fr Flannery said since his suspension from ministry in 2012, he has given numerous talks in Ireland, England and the US.

“With one exception in the US, there had been no problem, and my talks mainly consisted of highlighting the message of Pope Francis,” he said.

“To find an Irish bishop extending the notion of ‘silencing’ to a talk in a community hall is very disappointing.”

In 2012, Fr Flannery was suspended from public ministry by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Faith (CDF) for his more liberal views on women priests, homosexuality and contraception.

He was to have given the opening address at Spiritfest 2015 over the last weekend in September at the community centre in Killeagh, east Cork. The invitation was issued to him by the local parish pastoral council.

When he became aware of the invitation, Bishop Crean made personal representations to the parish priest of Killeagh, Fr Timothy Hazelwood, and to Fr Flannery’s superiors in the Redemptorist congregation.

“It seems to me that what he possibly wanted was that the provincial would order me not to go to Killeagh,” Fr Flannery said.

“The provincial of the Redemptorists did not give me any direction in respect of the talk in Killeagh.”

Fr Flannery said the bishop then travelled to Killeagh and met the subcommittee of the pastoral council, who were delegated to organise the weekend festival.

“At that meeting he gave orders that the invitation be cancelled. I got a phone call from the parish priest that evening to tell me that the talk would no longer take place,” he said.

The priest raised concerns about freedom of speech. He said his treatment by the CDF in the Vatican was “unjust and abusive”.

“To find an Irish bishop extending the notion of ‘silencing’ to a talk in a community hall is very disappointing,” he said.

“How long and at what cost do these bishops imagine they can keep the lid on every boiling pot?”

He said Pope Francis has called for open discussion and respectful listening and asked how a bishop can justify extreme measures to silence people.

He said the incident was an example of a bishop using his episcopal authority to “lay down the law” to a group of committed lay people in a parish, and to “peremptorily overrule their decision”.

“How can we seriously expect any lay person to put themselves forward for positions in the Church when they can so easily be brushed aside when the bishop does not like what they are doing?” he asked.

In a statement on Friday, Bishop Crean said while the parish pastoral council extended the invitation to Fr Flannery in good faith, he had “been obliged to inform the members that, having spoken with Fr Flannery’s superior, the provincial of the Redemptorist Order in Ireland, I am unable to approve the extension of this invitation at this time”.

He said the reason was that Fr Flannery was currently out of ministry and the policy of the diocese of Cloyne is that a priest who is out of ministry, for whatever reason, cannot exercise a public ministry.