We Are Church Intl.

Fr Tony Flannery – A Prophet recognised In his own Land!

An hour before the start there was standing room only! 1,000 arrived to celebrate Fr Tony Flannery's 70th birthday and his over 40 years of service to our church. Fr Willie Cummins from Ennistymon joined Fr Tony on the altar. A choir assembled specially for this occasion sang out loud to the heavens. Noírín Ní Riain enchanted us with her singing and especially her song for Tony!

The mass started spot on 2.30pm. Tony gave General Absolution to all assembled (a big screen outside had as many watching as were packed inside Killimordaly Community Centre). In his homily Tony said nit was time for believing communities to recover the Eucharist for themselves. Everyone was invited to receive communion as a statement of love for all.

In the leaflet welcoming all Tony set out the main issues between him and the Vatican:

* Priesthood: The first thing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the Vatican objected to was an article which I wrote in the height of the clerical sex abuse crisis here in Ireland. I said in that article that I believed the priesthood as we have it now is not as Christ would want it. In the context in which I was writing, that seemed an obvious statement to make. But, taken out of context, and sitting in a desk in the CDF, they considered it heresy.

* Catholic Teaching on Relationships and sexuality: The CDF objected to some things I had written about issues around artificial contraception, and the teaching on homosexuality. I had said, and written, many times over the years that I regarded the document issued by Pope Paul Vl forbidding all forms of artificial contraception under pain of serious sin to be wrong. The CDF demanded that I state publicly that I fully accepted that teaching. Equally I had difficulty with teaching that described people of a homosexual orientation as in a 'disordered state', and that all homosexual acts were 'intrinsically evil'. Again they demanded that I state publicly that I accepted their views on all this. I could not do that.

* How to interpret Catholic Teaching in a Pastoral setting: For a long period, from the beginning of the nineteen eighties until the election of Pope Francis we priests were told that all Catholic teaching to do with sexuality was to be imposed rigidly on people. Everything was black and white, with no grey areas. I always believed that life was made up of grey areas, and was much too complicated for rigid teachings, but that teaching had to be adjusted to the circumstances and conditions of each person's life. The CDF did not agree with this.

* Equality of Women in the Church: This was, and continues to be, a major issue for me. Often in my writings I have stated that I believe the Church would not have credibility until such time as women had full equality in all aspects of Church life, including the various areas of ministry. Pope John Paul had ruled out any discussion on this question, and the CDF demanded that I accept that women would never be ordained priests in the Catholic Church. I refused to do this.

* Conscience: The Second Vatican Council, in the middle of the last century, accepted what was called the Primacy of Conscience - in other words that a person's conscience is the final arbiter of what is right and wrong for them. But the official Church has never been very comfortable with this. It stated that your conscience would only be properly informed, if it was based on the teaching of the Church. This was something of a 'Catch 22' situation. In my decision not to comply with what the CDF demanded of me, I was following what my own conscience was telling me was right, even though it disagreed with what their interpretation of Church teaching was. I believe it is important to state that believers have the ability and the confidence to follow their own conscience in the complex and difficult situations of life.

* Abusive Procedures: The final issue, and the one I feel most strongly about, is the unjust and abusive procedures by which the CDF deal with people who express views contrary to what they believe is official teaching of the Church. It is important to remember that I am not the only priest who has been disciplined. There are others in Ireland and a great many around the world.. I do not think the Catholic Church can speak with any credibility about justice in the world, until such time as it exercises justice in its internal dealings with its own members.

POPE FRANCIS: What really gives me hope is that our present Pope, Francis, is trying to change and reform the Church in many of the areas mentioned above, - in regard to Primacy of Conscience; the pastoral approach of meeting people where they are at and helping them in the particular circumstances of their lives, rather than just imposing laws and rules; bringing women into positions of importance in the Vatican and raising discussion on women deacons; appearing to be open to abolishing the law of compulsory celibacy for priests, and seeming to be open to the ordination of married men. Long may he live, and may his work for Church Reform and Renewal thrive and grow.


Colm Holmes
Core Group Member; We Are Church Ireland