By Sarah Mac Donald - 20 December, 2014
The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland has written to Pope Francis asking him to intervene in the case of Fr Tony Flannery, a co-founder of their group, which now numbers over 1,000 Irish priests.
Letters released by the ACP last week show that the five-member leadership wrote to the Pontiff in September outlining a series of criticisms of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s (CDF) treatment of the Redemptorist priest who was censured in 2012.
The ACP also to wrote to Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, to express their concern for Fr Flannery’s plight.
In their letter to the Pope, the ACP remind the Pontiff that Fr Flannery’s Redemptorist superior general was ordered by the CDF to remove him from priestly ministry and was advised that he can only be restored on condition that he signs and publishes certain statements.
“Fr Flannery is unable, for reasons of conscience, to sign such statements and could only do so if he were to tell lies,” the ACP leaders state.
They also explain that since his ordination in 1974, Fr Flannery has worked in the demanding ministry of Parish Missions for 40 years, touching the lives of countless ‘broken’ people and countless ‘lost sheep’.
“In the view of a great many Catholics in Ireland he has given a lifetime of service to the People of God,” they state.
Elsewhere in their letter, the ACP leadership cite Pope Francis’ own comment that in the event of receiving a reprimanding letter from the CDF priests should read it, put it aside and continue with their daily ministry.
However, the ACP highlight, Fr Flannery’s Redemptorist superiors have not allowed him to do this.
“It is also significant that the CDF has never communicated directly with Fr Flannery or afforded him an opportunity to explain his position and put the statements that the CDF objected to in the context in which they were written,” the five priests highlight.
They also tell the Pope that the highly respected Irish Augustinian theologian, Fr Gabriel Daly, has recently written that Fr Flannery’s views are “both historically and theologically unobjectionable”.
Saying they believe that the treatment of Fr Flannery at the hands of the CDF and the manner in which the CDF acted has “caused further disillusionment among Irish Catholics and have made the work of priests even more difficult”, they add “It is viewed as yet another example of a Church that is more concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy than with the compassion of Jesus Christ.”
The ACP leadership conclude by “respectfully” requesting the Pope to give attention to this matter and reverse the judgement of the CDF.
The letter is signed by Seamus Ahearne, OSA; Gerard Alwill, PP; Brendan Hoban, PP; Seán McDonagh, SSC; and Gerry O’Connor, CSsR.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Fr Brendan Hoban said the ACP believes that the present structure of engagement with the CDF is “clearly not working”.
“It does not meet minimal demands of fairness or respect,” he said and added that “Unease with the CDF and its working procedures is not confined to the ACP or to Ireland.”
The Co Mayo-based parish priest said the ACP is not arguing against the importance of doctrinal orthodoxy or objecting to procedures to monitor it.
“What we are suggesting is that the present procedures are not fit for purpose. There are other ways of dealing with such issues including, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has suggested, doing so at national level.”
He said the problem lay in the present norms and procedures and the way they’re being implemented, disallowing (among other things) the kind of fair procedures people have come to expect in civil society.
“The procedures are demonstrably creating more problems than they’re solving,” he warned.
He said the Irish bishops need to proactively raise this matter with Rome at the highest level, indicating the unfairness of the procedures and the collateral damage to the Irish Church.