Support for priest on Vatican censure


THE MARIST priest and theologian Fr Seán Fagan has been advised by Rome that if any word of their latest action against him reached the media he would be stripped of his priesthood.

According to Mary Cunningham, a friend of Fr Fagan’s, “the silencing of Seán, after a lifetime of service to the church, was even more painful because if any word of this action demanded by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith got into the media, he would immediately be prohibited from exercising his priestly faculties.”

Writing on the Association of Catholic Priests website, and confirmed to The Irish Times last night, Ms Cunningham continued: “Seán, whom I am privileged to call my friend, loves our Catholic Church.”

Fr Brendan Hoban of the priest’s association, described the Vatican’s treatment of Fr Fagan as “very disturbing” and “so extreme it highlights the inadequacy of the approach of closing down debate”.

Fr Hoban also felt it was particularly inappropriate in Ireland at the moment, recalling how “secrecy and fearfulness” had played such a role in the abuse scandals.

Priests, he said “are united, from a pastoral point of view, in their opinion that this approach is exactly wrong”.

In July 2003 Ireland’s Catholic bishops described Does Morality Change? as “in error” under direction from the then dean of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.

The errors in the Fr Fagan’s book, and first published in 1997 and republished in 2003, were listed by the bishops as “the denial of the binding force of the Magisterium [Rome] on conscience”; “the uncritical acceptance of the tendency ‘to substitute a dynamic and more evolutionary concept of nature for a static one’,”; “the effective rejection of the church’s understanding of the natural law (illuminated by revelation)”; “the explicit denial of moral absolutes, specially those concrete acts which are intrinsically wrong”; and “the promotion of a false understanding of conscience”.

It is understood that an anonymous individual, thought to be an Irish bishop, complained directly to Rome about the book.

In a letter to this newspaper in 2007, Fr Fagan noted how, after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict had written that: “Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.”