Rome’s treatment of censured Irish priests a ‘great scandal’

Catholic bishops urged to develop more just and respectful process for dealing with cases

  Fr Tony Flannery: “Anything remotely to do with the church, I am persona non grata.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fr Tony Flannery: “Anything remotely to do with the church, I am persona non grata.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

An Irish priest censured by the Vatican has cast doubts that his future or the futures of other clerics in his situation will improve following last week’s meeting between Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) colleagues and bishops.

“Experience leads me to have little hope or expectation from the meeting,” Fr Tony Flannery said.

He is among six Irish priests censured by the Vatican in recent years for their more liberal views on issues such as contraception, priesthood, women priests and homosexuality.

Others include Fr Brian D’Arcy, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Owen O’Sullivan, Fr Iggy O’Donovan and Fr Seán Fagan.

A member of the ACP delegation, Fr Seán McDonagh, told the bishops at the Maynooth meeting that the six priests’ treatment by the church was seen as a source “of great scandal by many Catholics in Ireland”.

He placed the issue at the door of the Irish bishops, noting how Pope Francis recently said not every problem needed the magisterium of the Vatican to deal with it.

Ashamed

The present Vatican process in such cases “where an ethos of secrecy dictated that an accused individual wasn’t dealt with directly, didn’t know who his accusers were and didn’t even know when a process was initiated” made him feel ashamed of his church, he said.

He appealed to the bishops to act, and to develop a more just and respectful process for dealing with such cases. He said the priests involved “had given lifetimes of service to the church” and “were deeply respected”.

Representing the Catholic bishops at the meeting were Archbishop of Cashel Kieran O’Reilly, Bishop of Kerry Ray Browne, Bishop of Raphoe Philip Boyce and Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty.

Dominant voice

“One is very senior [Bishop Boyce], one is a recently appointed archbishop and there are two young bishops,” said Fr Flannery. He said Bishop Boyce – “a very traditional, conservative man” – would be the dominant voice.

The ACP was represented at the meeting by Fr Tim Hazelwood (Cloyne diocese), Fr Brendan Hoban (Killala), Msgr Dermot Lane (Dublin), Fr Seán McDonagh (Columban), and Fr Gerry O’Connor (Redemptorist).

Fr Hazelwood had invited Fr Flannery to speak at Killeagh last September.

The invitation was withdrawn on the instruction of Bishop of Cloyne William Crean.

In a statement afterwards, Dr Crean said: “Fr Flannery is 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.”

Fr Flannery said Dr Crean’s stance was a blow. “Anything remotely to do with the church, I am persona non grata,” he said. The experience hurt him more than he was inclined to admit at the time, he said.

Fr Flannery, 69 last January, became aware four years ago that he was out of favour with Rome. Rome’s unhappiness was exacerbated by his role in co-founding the ACP in 2010.

Fr Flannery, Fr D’Arcy, Fr Moloney, Fr O’Sullivan, Fr O’Donovan, and 10 other censured theologians sent a letter to the Vatican earlier this year appealing for “accountability and transparency” in cases such as theirs.