Order's superior general confirmed Fr Flannery was under investigation for his views on 'fundamental' Catholic doctrine

The head of the Redemptorist Fathers in Rome has said he “deeply regret[s]” the actions of an Irish member of the order who accused the Vatican of subjecting him to “frightening procedures reminiscent of the Inquisition”.

Fr Michael Brehl, the order’s superior general, said in a statement that Fr Tony Flannery, 66, was under Vatican investigation for alleged ambiguities “regarding fundamental areas of Catholic doctrine, including the priesthood, the nature of the Church and the Eucharist”.

Fr Flannery told a Dublin press conference on Sunday that he was “threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church for suggesting that, in the future, women might become priests and calling for this and other matters to be open for discussion”.

The Irish Catholic newspaper reported that the investigation of Fr Flannery – a founder-member of the Association of Catholic Priests – was triggered by a 2010 article in a religious magazine.

In the article, Fr Flannery wrote that he no longer believed that “the priesthood as we currently have it in the Church originated with Jesus” or that Jesus designated “a special group of his followers as priests”.

Fr Flannery wrote: “It is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community, who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda.”

In a statement issued yesterday, Fr Brehl confirmed that “in January 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith raised concerns about some of the writings of Fr Flannery”.

“He was instructed to undertake a period of prayer and theological reflection to clarify his positions on these matters. During this sabbatical period, he was instructed not to grant interviews or make public statements and to withdraw from active involvement in the leadership of the ACP, especially since the priesthood was one of the matters on which he was asked to clarify his position. He was also instructed to withdraw from active priestly ministry during this period of prayer and reflection,” he said.

The superior general said he wanted to “earnestly invite” Fr Flannery “to renew the efforts to find an agreed solution to the concerns raised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”. He also asked Irish Redemptorists to “join with me in praying and working together in the spirit of St. Alphonsus to maintain and strengthen our communion with the universal Church”.

In a separate statement, the Irish province of the Redemptorists said it was “deeply saddened by the breakdown in communication” between Fr Flannery and the Vatican.

“It is of immense regret that some structures or processes of dialogue have not yet been found in the Church, which have a greater capacity to engage with challenging voices from among God’s people, while respecting the key responsibility and central role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“We sincerely hope and pray that even at this late stage, some agreed resolution can be found to this matter,” the Irish Redemptorists said.