THE REDEMPTORISTS have come out in support of the former head of the order in Limerick who says he is at risk of excommunication if he does not recant his liberal views.
Fr Tony Flannery, who is a former rector of the Redemptorists on Mount St Alphonsus, has been barred from ministry since last year and says he now faces being dismissed from his order outright.
As an author, Fr Flannery has long questioned official church teaching on women priests, clerical celibacy, homosexuality and other issues. But he has written this week of his belief that it was his role in setting up the Association of Catholic Priests, an independent grouping of clerics, in 2010 that brought him to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican office formerly headed up by Pope Benedict XVI.
“Suddenly last February I was informed by my Redemptorist superiors that I was in serious trouble over some things I had written. I was summoned to Rome, not to the Vatican, which to this day has not communicated with me directly, but to the head of the Redemptorists,” Fr Flannery stated.
“This was the beginning of what is now almost a year of tension, stress and difficult decision-making in my life.”
Fr Flannery went on to say he was ultimately presented with a choice where he either signed a statement for publication stating he “accepted teachings that I could not accept, or I would remain permanently banned from priestly ministry, and maybe face more serious sanctions”.
At a press conference this Sunday, Fr Flannery said that included possible excommunication.
But giving up “freedom of conscience”, Fr Flannery said, was “too high a price to pay” to continue ministry “in today’s church”.
Members of the relatively liberal Association of Catholic Priests believe the clampdown on Fr Flannery and like-minded Irish clerics is an effort by the Vatican to stifle independent priests associations which have sprung up around Europe.
And in a statement issued on Sunday, the Redemptorists said that while not everybody in the order agreed with Fr Flannery’s views, “we do understand and support his efforts to listen carefully to and at times to articulate the views of people he encounters in the course of his ministry”.
“It is of immense regret that some structures or processes of dialogue have not yet been found in the Church which have a greater capacity to engage with challenging voices from among God’s people, while respecting the key responsibility and central role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”