Flannery urges end to silencing of Irish priests before papal visit

‘Ridiculous’ that six remain under sanctions given how pope has changed church’s culture

Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery. ‘The various levels of authority above me in the church’ would ‘happily leave me where I am. If I die suddenly, they will say ‘nice meaningless words’ over my coffin.’ File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery. ‘The various levels of authority above me in the church’ would ‘happily leave me where I am. If I die suddenly, they will say ‘nice meaningless words’ over my coffin.’ File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

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Vatican silencing of six Irish priests should be ended in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland next August, one of those priests has said.

Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery said that “if Irish bishops really cared about justice and fairness in the church” they would be making efforts to have sanctions placed on the six priests during the pontificate of Pope Benedict lifted.

Fr Flannery was banned from public ministry in 2012 for expressing his more liberal views on priesthood, women priests, homosexuality and contraception.

“If Cardinals Burke, Muller and others can openly defy the pope without any sanctions, it is ridiculous that we, all of us being strong supporters of Francis, remain sanctioned,” he said.

The six priests Fr Flannery refers to include Passionist Fr Brian D’Arcy, Redemptorist Fr Gerard Moloney, Capuchin Fr Owen O’Sullivan, Augustinian Fr Iggy O’Donovan and Marist Fr Seán Fagan, who died in 2016.

In 2014, following direct intervention with Pope Francis by former president Mary McAleese, a then very ill Fr Fagan was assured by Rome that he remained “a priest in good standing” with the church.

In a post on his website Fr Flannery commented that “the various levels of authority above me in the church” would “happily leave me where I am. If I die suddenly, they will say ‘nice meaningless words’ over my coffin.

“If I die of some lingering disease they will probably come with some form of ‘pardon for my sins’, as they partially did for Seán Fagan. If it comes to that, I hope I will be sufficiently alert to say ‘No, thanks’.”

He recalled how “it was this month, April, six years ago” when he was ordered by the Vatican “ to step down from priestly ministry”. A lot has changed in the church since then, he said.

Pope Francis “has introduced an openness and freedom of opinion and speech in the church that we haven’t seen since those days immediately after the Vatican Council in the 1960s.”

Critics of Pope Francis were “ allowed complete freedom to express their opinions” and “while continuing to minister in full standing within the church”. Meanwhile ,“I remain outside the fold, unable to do my priestly work, branded a heretic, and left in this ‘limbo’ state,” Fr Flannery said.

“The three issues on which I was sidelined – the origin and nature of priesthood, aspects of Catholic sexual teaching, the ordination of women – are now being freely discussed and debated right across the church,” he said.

“My Redemptorist superiors, or indeed the Irish bishops, if they really wanted to, could do something in this present very different climate in the church, to get the sanctions against me lifted, and to restore my good name.”

He belived that “apart entirely from what it would do for me personally, it would be a great message that the church had changed, and that in future people would be treated in a more fair and just manner.”

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