There has been a lot of media attention in Ireland & worldwide about the Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery. He wrote a prominent op-ed for today's Irish Times entitled Vatican's demand for silence is too high a price in the same edition as this news report from Patsy McGarry (Priests support Flannery over challenging views). As both articles explain, Fr Flannery was removed from ministry due to opinions expressed by him in Reality magazine a couple of years ago. Fr Flannery himself - despite writing at length about contraception and Humanae Vitae - doesn't explain precisely what opinions landed him in hot water with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Patsy McGarry points to Fr Flannery's writings on women's ordination, contraception and homosexuality.
Where the real problem is
However, this is to overlook a huge point. If we look at the New York Times account of the situation (Priest is Planning to Defy the Vatican's Orders to Stay Quiet) we see that neither Fr Flannery nor Patsy McGarry is telling the full story. It states:
The Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to Father Flannery’s religious superior, the Rev. Michael Brehl, last year instructing him to remove Father Flannery from his ministry in County Galway, to ensure he did not publish any more articles in religious or other publications, and to tell him not to give interviews to the news media. In the letter, the Vatican objected in particular to an article published in 2010 in Reality, an Irish religious magazine.
In the article, Father Flannery, a Redemptorist priest, wrote that he no longer believed that “the priesthood as we currently have it in the church originated with Jesus” or that he designated “a special group of his followers as priests.” Instead, he wrote, “It is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda.”
Father Flannery said the Vatican wanted him specifically to recant the statement, and affirm that Christ instituted the church with a permanent hierarchical structure and that bishops are divinely established successors to the apostles.(emphasis mine)
It's curious that the Irish Times and most of Fr Flannery's supporters don't bother to mention that he denies a basic truth of the faith that we learn as children (that Christ instituted the sacraments, including Holy Orders) and that he considers the priesthood itself to be some kind of illegitimate takeover of the Church dating back almost 2,000 years. Whatever their respect for Fr Flannery's pastoral gifts, his kindness to people or even their agreement with him on other points, I can't understand how any group of Catholic priests can seriously argue that it's okay to deny the very nature of priesthood itself and still present oneself as a loyal and dutiful member of the Church.
Whither Fr Flannery's conscience?
Additionally, I can't understand how Fr Flannery can square it with his own conscience that he's willing to fight for his ministry as a priest whilst painting the priesthood itself as a conspiratorial and oppressive perversion of the Gospel. That's trying to have your cake and eat it. I'm not familiar with the CDF's disciplinary procedures - I do know that in the case of members of religious orders like the Redemptorists that they prefer to use the 'line management' within the religious order rather than dealing directly with the priest involved. I don't have a huge issue with people discussing the procedures involves and whether they are the best way to handle a case such as Fr Flannery. However, I do not see how someone can still try to claim the right to exercise the ministry of priest while dissenting so radically from the teachings of the Church (as affirmed at Vatican II in Lumen Gentium & elsewhere.). If Fr Flannery is going to claim a 'pulpit' as a minister of the Church, hasn't the Church the right to insist that he teach in unity with the Church. If Fr Flannery chooses to do otherwise, then he's the one placing himself on the outside.
It's interesting to note that at lunchtime yesterday the Irish Times website carried a report which quoted Fr Flannery's more outlandish statements about the priesthood. However, later in the day, the article had been redacted to exclude those controversial opinions in favour of more 'popular' forms of dissent.