A Redemptorist priest threatened with excommunication for his outspoken views on the Church’s stance on homosexuality, contraception, and the ordination of women has likened his treatment to the Inquisition.
Fr Tony Flannery, a native of Athenry, spoke out about attempts to silence him at a press conference on Sunday. Fr Flannery said he has been ordered not to discuss his views publicly under threat of excommunication. He must also agree not to attend any meetings of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), of which he is a founder, until he has publicly articulated his support for traditional Catholic teaching on matters of sex and gender.
Fr Flannery, (66) who joined the Redemptorists in 1964 at seventeen and was ordained 10 years later, said he was forbidden to minister as a priest for most of the past year, and that this will continue until he meets the requirements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
“I have been ordered not to engage with the media or publish any books or articles,” he added.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a group of cardinals, monsignors, archbishops, and bishops charged with safeguarding and upholding Catholic doctrine. Fr Flannery said the CDF had not contacted him directly and had refused to engage with him, but he had been made aware that the orders were coming from it.
“I have also been ordered not to have any involvement, public or private, with the ACP,” he added. “I was put under a formal precept of obedience not to attend the AGM of the ACP last November by Michael Brehl, Superior General of the Redemptorists. But he made it clear he’d been instructed by the CDF to issue it.”
Fr Flannery said he will be allowed back into ministry only if he writes, signs, and publishes an article — pre-approved by the CDF — accepting that the Catholic Church can never ordain women to the priesthood, and accepting the Church’s stance on contraception, homosexuality, and the refusal of the sacraments to people in second relationships.
“I could not possibly put my name to such an article without impugning my own integrity and conscience,” he said on Sunday. “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is orchestrating all this while refusing to communicate with me. I have had no direct communication with them. I have never been given an opportunity to meet my accusers, or to understand why this action is being taken against me when I’ve raised the same issues, consistently, for decades.”
Fr Flannery said the documentation he received, apparently from the CDF, took the form of a typed A4 page which was unsigned and had no letterhead.
“The only reason that I can be sure that this came from the CDF is that Michael Brehl, the head of the Redemptorists, told me it did,” he said. “All requests for direct communication with the CDF have been ignored.”
Fr Flannery described the actions against him as “frightening, disproportionate and reminiscent of the Inquisition”.
“I have served the Church, the Redemptorists and the people of God for two thirds of my life,” he added. “Throughout that time, I have in good conscience raised issues I believed important for the future of the Church in books and essays largely read by practising Catholics, rather than raising them in mainstream media. I’m hardly a major and subversive figure within the Church deserving excommunication and expulsion from the religious community within which I have lived since my teens.”
He said he was faced with choosing between Rome and his conscience.
“I must also question if the threats are a means, not just of terrifying me into submission, but of sending a message to any other priest expressing views at variance with those of the Roman Curia,” he added. “Submitting to these threats would be a betrayal of my ministry, my fellow priests, and the Catholic people who want change.”
Fr Flannery said that because he believes he is being subjected to unfair treatment, he has taken legal advice under canon and civil law to help him defend his rights as a member of the Church and as an Irish citizen.
Meanwhile the ACP has issued a statement supporting Fr Flannery. “The ACP is disturbed by the procedures evident in this case: the unwillingness to deal directly with the accused person; the injunction to secrecy; the presumption of guilt; the lack of due process,” the organisation said in a statement on its website this week. “They suggest a callousness and even brutality that is in sharp contrast to the compassion of Jesus Christ.
“There is a double standard at work when we preach the value and right of religious freedom to others and fail to honour them within our own Church.”