Monday, January 28, 2013

Father Tony Flannery Speaks Out about Vatican Action Against Him

In what I just posted, I noted the current Vatican disciplining of Irish Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery. A week ago, Fr. Flannery published a statement about the Vatican's action against him in the Irish Times. It's entitled "Vatican's Demand for Silence is Too High a Price."

Fr. Flannery tells a moving story of the hope that arose among many priests and in the Catholic church as a whole with the reforms of Vatican II. Though Paul VI chose to contravene the counsel of the theological commission he set up to advise him about this and to continue the hard line that the papacy had developed in the modern era regarding contraception, many priests in their "ordinary" lives of ministry dealt with those to whom they ministered compassionately and helpfully in this area, Fr. Flannery notes. This experience became for him and other priests a "training ground" in authentic pastoral ministry that helped people form mature adult consciences.

Then, with this pope and his predecessor, there came the crackdown, and with it, Fr. Flannery notes, a reversion "to the more authoritarian style of ministry practiced in the past." Along with this development there also began the disturbing development of what is now often called in various English-speaking Catholic communities the work of the temple police: watchdogs for orthodoxy (for their highly selective version of orthodoxy) began to report any and all infractions they heard or imagined in homilies, saw in Masses celebrated in Catholic parishes, and so forth.

Spies, in other words. Spies who had the ear of Rome, and who intimidated bishops and religious superiors who feared the wrath of the Vatican if they did not kowtow to these temple police. In the years in which I lived in the diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, these temple police routinely sought to bully any pastor who permitted a girl to serve as an altar server, or who permitted a woman to carry the processional cross or gospels down the aisle as Mass began. The bishop in authority when I arrived in Charlotte listened to these temple police and refused to allow women's feet to be washed during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Rome eventually rewarded him with a higher position in the church.

After Fr. Flannery and other Irish priests formed the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in the fall of 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office formerly headed by the current pope, began to target him. As he dealt with them in the only way they'd allow, through tortuous communication from the CDF to his Redemptorist superiors, who then relayed the CDF's wishes to him, the CDF continually raised the bar in what it demanded of him, with an ultimate demand that he sign a written statement renouncing the views to which the CDF objected.

This demand produced for Fr. Flannery a crisis of conscience:

So now, at this hour of my life, I either put my name to a document that would be a lie, and would impugn my integrity and my conscience, or I face the reality of never again ministering as a priest. I have always believed in the church as the community of believers and as an essential element in promoting and nourishing the faith. I have enjoyed my years of preaching, the main work of Redemptorists, and never had any doubt that Christ’s message was one worth proclaiming. 
But to give up on freedom of thought, freedom of speech and most especially freedom of conscience is too high a price for me to pay to be allowed minister in today’s church.

And now, three days after his 66th birthday, after a religious life that began in 1964, and after he was ordained in 1974 and has served the church faithfully as an ordained minister for all those years, he was notified that he is forbidden to exercise official ministry.

No comments: