Archbishop denies refusing suspended priest permission to say funeral Mass for sister

Attempts made to resolve ‘sad situation... declined’, he says

Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary has disputed a claim that he refused permission for Fr Tony Flannery to celebrate the funeral Mass for his sister Geraldine at Tuam Cathedral on September 1st last.

“That permission is denied by the Holy See and the Archbishop does not have the authority to overrule that decision,” a spokesman said.

“ The decision not to avail of the Cathedral was taken by Geraldine’s family and not by the Archbishop or the parish clergy - who stood ready to assist in every way they could, and as they would do for any parishioner,” the spokesman said.

Co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Fr Flannery was suspended from public ministry by the Vatican in 2012 for supporting women's ordination and same-sex marriage, as well as his liberal views on homosexuality.


On his website, Fr Flannery said that prior to his sister's death on August 30th last, he contacted the Administrator in Tuam and asked him "to check with Archbishop Neary if it would be all right for me to celebrate Geraldine's funeral mass in the Cathedral in Tuam which was her home parish".

Geraldine had “spent the first half of her adult life as a Mercy sister,” Fr Flannery said, and “one thing she insisted on, many times, was that I was to celebrate the funeral Mass when she died”.

He promised that he would, as he had for their brother Fr Peter Flannery last November at the Redemptorist's Mount St Alphonsus church in Limerick.

However “the answer was ‘no’” from Archbishop Neary.

The funeral took place instead at his sister’s home in Tuam.


Fr Flannery said “what really disappointed me was the fact that the Archbishop made no effort to contact me personally. Geraldine had spent 40 years of her life in Tuam diocese, and I believe she had contributed considerably to the parish and the town through her years as a catechist and a healer.”

It displayed “a lack of ordinary human compassion that I have experienced in a number of other high up officials in the Church in these last years, where the rules and regulations, the Canon Law, becomes more important than the person,” he said.

In a response, a spokesman for Tuam Archdiocese said “Archbishop Neary was on annual leave at the time of Geraldine Flannery’s funeral. He knew Geraldine personally for many years, and knew of her very fine and celebrated reputation as a distinguished teacher while she was a Sister of Mercy, and as one engaged in a healing ministry thereafter”.

They “regularly met and spoke at the Cathedral after the 10.30 am Mass on Sundays” and the Archbishop “was very sorry to hear the news of her death”. Had he been in Tuam “ he would have conveyed his personal sympathies to the members of Geraldine’s family”. Generally, in such instances, it is his practice to write to families, usually within a month of their bereavement.

On why Fr Flannery was not permitted to say the funeral Mass in Tuam Cathedral, the spokesman said it was “well documented why this sad situation endures, and it is also well documented that the Holy See made attempts to bring this matter to a successful conclusion, but the offer was declined”.

He pointed that Archbishop Neary and retired Bishop of Clonfert John Kirby "did all that they could do in Rome to bring about a resolution to Fr Flannery's situation. It will take both sides to work towards and achieve this goal. The Archbishop prays for and looks forward to the day when both sides will manage to reconcile their differences ," he concluded.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times