Rome is right, not before time, to “silence” Father Tony Flannery
I see that the Irish so-called Association of Catholic Priests (a title which misleadingly implies that it is representative of the views of most Irish clergy) is in the papers again, this time for expressing its support for Father Tony Flannery, who has been “silenced” by “The Vatican”: that is, he has been told to stop writing articles attacking the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, which he consistently describes as being simply the views of a clique of reactionary clergy who have seized power in the Roman curia, and have decided to suppress as far as they are able the freedom of speech of everyone else.
Father Flannery, it may be remembered, came out in support of the Taioseach, Enda Kenny, when he scurrilously attacked the Pope last year: “I was happy with the Taoiseach’s statement”, he said; “Many of us priests are frustrated with the way the Vatican conducts its business.” Maybe he was more than just “happy” with the statement: indeed, David Quinn, of the Iona Community, former editor of the Irish Catholic, asked an interesting question “Did a priest angry at Rome [i.e. Fr Flannery] help him write the speech?…. One could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that he was trying to encourage the creation of an Irish Catholic Church, as distinct from the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.”
Quinn’s theory, so far as I know, was never denied, and it has a certain plausibility. One of the Taioseach’s top advisers is one Frank Flannery, Fr Flannery’s brother; and Fr Flannery is one of the founders of the aforementioned Association of Catholic Priests., which calls for the establishment of a national Church, separate from Rome, that would be conducted “democratically”. The ACP was formed less than 2 years ago, and kicked off by demanding that the Church should “re-evaluate” a number of its teachings, notably those on the ordination of women, artificial birth control and priestly celibacy.
This Association of Catholic Priests has now declared that it is “disturbed” that Fr Flannery is under investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF): well, it would, wouldn’t it? Fr Flannery himself founded it, it’s his mouthpiece: but the way the ACP goes on, you’d think the Irish clergy had risen up as one man in his defence (they haven’t). In a statement yesterday, the ACP said (in other words Father Flannery said) “we affirm in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Fr Flannery and we wish to make clear our profound view that this intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise”. It (he) also said among other things that “While some reactionary fringe groups have contrived to portray our association as a small coterie of radical priests with a radical agenda [No!!! surely not], we have protested vehemently against that unfair depiction. We are and we wish to remain”, the statement added, “at the very heart of the Church, committed to putting into place the reforms of the Second Vatican Council”. Ah, yes, to be sure, the Second Vatican Council. Does that, I wonder, include Lumen Gentium? Does Fr Flannery remain “committed”, do you suppose, to the following?
The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock….(Lumen Gentium § 22)
The Daily Mail yesterday had an interesting blog piece, by the writer Mark Dooley, under the headline “Why the Pope is right to gag Fr Trendy”. Two years ago, Dooley appeared on a television programme entitled “Faith in Crisis”. He was joined on the panel by Fr Flannery, whom he hadn’t met before he appeared on the programme. Indeed, it was only when Fr Flannery accused Mr Dooley of suggesting that he didn’t celebrate the Mass properly, that he realised he was a Catholic priest at all, since “he neither spoke nor dressed as someone who wished to be identified as a member of the clergy”.
“Like most of the other participants on that programme”, Mark Dooley continues “Fr Flannery chanted from a radical hymn book. His message was one of dissent from Rome on issues ranging from clerical celibacy to women priests. As he spoke, I remember being surprised that the Vatican permitted such flagrant opposition to Church doctrine by one of its priests.
“I was, therefore, amused to hear that the ACP was ‘disturbed’ by Fr Flannery’s so-called ‘silencing’. ‘This intervention’, they say, ‘is unfair, unwarranted and unwise’ because, contrary to the claims of ‘some reactionary fringe groups’, the ACP is not ‘a small coterie of radical priests with a radical agenda’. Rather, it is ‘committed to putting into place the reforms of the Second Vatican Council’.”
This insistence that only the ACP and those who think like it authentically reflect the teachings of the Second Vatican Council really needs nailing, once and for all. They really do have a nerve, these people, going on and on about Vatican II in order to justify their defiance of the Magisterium of the Church. Do they think the rest of us know nothing ABOUT the Council? As Mark Dooley rightly went on to insist:
Studying the documents of Vatican II, I can see no evidence that the Council Fathers sought the ordination of women or the repudiation of priestly celibacy. When they spoke about ‘reform’ of the Church, they were not suggesting putting up for grabs the fundamentals of Catholic theology. Their objective was not, as the then Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1985, ‘to change the faith, but to represent it in a more effective way’.
It seems to me that the principal objective of groups like the ACP is to ‘change the faith’. As Pope Benedict recently said of the ACP’s Austrian counterpart, they have ‘issued a summons to disobedience’ – even to the point ‘of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium’ or teaching authority. In so doing, they are not only dissenting from the traditions of the Church, but from their priestly vows.’
No organisation can tolerate that level of dissent. This is especially so in the case of an institution whose origins are considered divine. For if you believe that the Church is the repository of timeless truth, and that those elected Pope are successors of St Peter, you will surely realise that changing the faith amounts to heresy. If, however, you don’t believe such things, why remain a member of the Catholic Church? (My emphasis).
I really couldn’t put it better myself: so I won’t even try.