The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP ) has expressed its support of Fr Tony Flannery, branding the intervention of the Vatican to effectively silence the Athenry-based Redemptorist cleric as “ill-advised” and “unfair”.
The group, which represents more than 800 priests, issued its statement of solidarity this week following events which saw Fr Flannery, a founding member of the association established less than two years ago, placed under investigation by the Vatican following his outspoken views on issues such as the ending of celibacy, opening up the Church to lay people, the ordination of women, the Church’s ban on contraception, as well as his frustration with the way the Church hierarchy operates. The Vatican has also ordered the discontinuation of Fr Flannery’s column in the religious magazine Reality, a column which he has written for the past 14 years. It is understood that a second priest, Fr Gerard Maloney, the magazine’s editor has also been banned from writing on various topics.
Pope Benedict, in the Holy Thursday homily at St Peter’s Basilica, denounced disobedience warning that the Church will not tolerate priests speaking out against Catholic teaching and chastised any priests who sought the ordination of women or the abolition of priest celibacy.
In its statement the ACP said that it is “disturbed” that Fr Flannery is being “silenced”. The statement went on to say: “We believe that such an approach, in its individual focus on Fr Flannery and inevitably by implication on the members of the association, is an extremely ill-advised intervention in the present pastoral context in Ireland. We affirm in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Fr Flannery and we wish to make clear our profound view that this intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise.”
The ACP stressed that the issues raised by the association and by Fr Flannery as part of the leadership team “are not an attack on or a rejection of the fundamental teachings of the Church. Rather they are an important reflection by an association of more than 800 Irish priests – who have given long service to the Catholic Church in Ireland – on issues surfacing in parishes all over the country.
“While some reactionary fringe groups have contrived to portray our association as a small coterie of radical priests with a radical agenda, we have protested vehemently against that unfair depiction. We are and we wish to remain at the very heart of the Church, committed to putting into place the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Accordingly we wish to register our extreme unease and disquiet at the present development, not least the secrecy surrounding such interventions and the questions about due process and freedom of conscience that such interventions surface. At this critical juncture in our history, the ACP believes that this form of intervention – what Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recently called ‘heresy-hunting’ – is of no service to the Irish Catholic Church and may have the unintended effect of exacerbating a growing perception of a significant ‘disconnect’ between the Irish Church and Rome.”