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Group meets Redemptorists over plight of Fr Tony Flannery

By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 January, 2020

Some of those involved in his “withdrawal” have been “shown up to be a lot less white than they presented themselves, and some of them have become more oppositional, even ‘heretical’, than I or my censored colleagues in the Irish Church ever were”.

A group of Catholics concerned about the plight of Fr Tony Flannery, who was censured by the Vatican in 2012, are due to hold a second meeting with the Redemptorists later this month to discuss how the impasse might be resolved.

In a blog post, the 73-year-old missioner said the group of mainly lay people approached the Redemptorist authorities “with a view to initiating a discussion that might lead to some way of breaking through the impasse of my ‘withdrawal’.”

One meeting has already taken place, and a further discussion is planned for later this month.

“I am extremely grateful to these people for the time and effort they are putting into this, and it remains to be seen where it might lead us,” Fr Flannery said.

The Vatican informed Fr Flannery in 2012 via his Redemptorist superiors that he would only be allowed to return to ministry if he agreed to write, sign and publish a statement agreeing that women should never be ordained as priests and if he adhered to church teaching on contraception and homosexuality.

At the beginning of a new year, Fr Flannery said he had “a sense that this could be a defining year in my life” though he added that what that might entail was not clear to him.

He recalled how the first five or six years after his censure and “withdrawal” from ministry were busy, and in many ways satisfying years.

“I was very involved in the work for Church Reform; I travelled a lot and spoke a great deal. I had plenty of energy for what I was doing and was hopeful that real change would happen.”

Fr Flannery said he was still hopeful of change, and continues to be impressed by Pope Francis, but admitted that he doesn’t have the energy or enthusiasm for the work of reform that he had.

“Is that increasing age, or is it a sense of the futility of it all? I am not sure. Seeing the lack of anything really worthwhile happening in the Irish Church is depressing.”

The popular preacher said he was more and more hearing stories of weekend Masses being cut, of parishes being effectively amalgamated, and of priests covering numerous churches.

“So much of this is being decided exclusively by bishops and priests, with often no consultation with the local faithful, and absolutely no effort made to look at alternatives to our outdated and failed form of ministry.”

“It is the clerical church still operating as if nothing had happened, as if there was no Vatican Council and as if Pope Francis had never come with his talk of collaboration and synodality.”

He also notes in his blog that in the international Church he sees how some people who were closely involved in his “withdrawal” have been “shown up to be a lot less white than they presented themselves, and some of them have become more oppositional, even ‘heretical’ (if I can judge by the standards they implied in my case) than I or my censored colleagues in the Irish Church ever were”.

“I am inclined to believe that if there is to be any change in my situation it will happen this year. If not, then I will have to accept that things will remain as they are for whatever amount of life I have left.”

But Fr Flannery stresses that living within an institution that “acts in such a cavalier and unjust fashion and is quite happy to sit with that injustice and do nothing about it, will be the difficult part”.

Meanwhile the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland in a tweet on Monday noted that, “For so many Catholics, the silencing of Tony was a brazen act, punishing a fine mission preacher, for simply asking and trying to answer questions, that ordinary Catholics articulate on a daily basis. That this is still unresolved is wrong,” the ACP said.

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