Strong reaction to silencing of clerics


THERE HAS been a strong reaction to Vatican efforts to silence two Redemptorist priests over their liberal views.

Fr Tony Flannery, a founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, has had his monthly column with Reality, the Redemptorists’ monthly magazine, discontinued at Vatican direction, while the magazine’s editor Fr Gerard Moloney can no longer write on certain issues. Both priests hold liberal views on contraception, celibacy and women priests.

Fr Kevin Hegarty, who was moved in 1994 to a Kilmore Erris parish on Mayo’s Atlantic coast by the Catholic bishops because of his liberal views, has described as “quite shocking” Vatican treatment of the two priests. When he heard the news first he thought it “some gauche April Fool’s joke”, he said yesterday.

He knows Fr Flannery as “very sincere, with a creative approach to ministry”, and “a loyal dissenter from official decisions” in Rome.

Fr Adrian Egan, rector of the Redemptorist community in Limerick, said he was “hugely disappointed”, “dismayed”, “flabbergasted, shocked and amazed” at the Vatican actions. Speaking personally, he said “there are people sitting in churches on a daily basis that are almost listening to hear you express an opinion that might be seen as dissenting, and they will report you”.

Dr John Murray, a lecturer in moral theology at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin, said the Vatican move was “not at all surprising”. He “broadly agreed that the church has a responsibility as well as a right, especially where priests and theologians were concerned”, to ensure “they truly believed in the faith and communicated it well”.

Matters questioned by some priests and theologians “go to the heart of what Catholicism is about”, he said. He wondered whether such people should leave the Catholic Church “if they no longer believe the Catholic faith”.

In 1991, Fr Hegarty was appointed editor of Intercom, a magazine published by the Catholic bishops’ commission on communications, then chaired by Bishop Brendan Comiskey.

In 1993, the bishops criticised an article in the magazine on women priests by Mary McAleese, later president of Ireland, and articles by others on deployment of priests and posing questions to the bishops on their handling of clerical child sex abuse.