A Tuam priest reacts to the treatment of Fr Tony Flannery

In the hope that Fr Tony Flannery is allowed to read even if not allowed to speak I write to express my great sadness at the attempt to ‘silence’ those who Rome decrees are not ‘toeing the party line’. I am one of almost fifty priests in the archdiocese of Tuam who are registered members of the ACP and I am working as a priest for the past thirty two years. Like my co-diocesan Colm Kilcoyne who put it so eloquently on radio recently, I too was surprised and stunned by the announcement on Holy Thursday that the Pope is going to come down heavy on those promoting women priests ! Yes indeed Holy Week was almost wiped out !
Yesterday in Ballintubber Abbey at a funeral Mass I struggled with a colleague to read the ‘unreadable’ English in the awful translation that is the new missal. Tomorrow for ‘Low’ Sunday I will offer Mass in my home parish for my mother who is twenty years dead – the same church that she was secretly ‘churched’ after the joy of giving birth to each of her fourteen children. With regard to the role of women in our church has anything really changed ! Other colleagues expressed it well when they said that he church can be a ‘cold place’ for those of us who have a different view on the new missal or married clergy or the procedures used when colleagues are asked to ‘step aside’ from ministry.
Still we are an Easter people. We live in hope. Just as the Holy Spirit was at work at the AGM of our association a few months back when the Good News came through that RTE had apologised for its horrific libelling of our colleague Fr Kevin Reynolds. Maybe the attempt to ‘silence’ Fr Tony Flannery is the Holy Spirit giving us new energy as we move ‘Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church’ ! Looking forward to lively and respectful debate on the 7th May in the Regency Hotel !
Lord, may we all be tolerant of those whose opinion or way of life is different from ours.
‘Conversion’ is worth praying for everyday. Silence is not always the answer.
Keep up your great work Fr Tony.
Pat Donnellan,
PP, Islandeady

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  1. A Rural Priest says:

    Re: The Churching of Women
    It cannot be pointed out often enough that if you look at the actual text of the ceremony and the teachings of the pre-Vatican II manuals, it was NOT a purification ceremony or anything denigrating to women. It was a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and blessing following the birth of a child. I know the common opinion held otherwise, but surely that was popular superstition (and maybe the ignorance of many priests) rather than the teaching of the Church…

  2. Mark O'Shea says:

    What hope there is in reading such a respectful comment as that of Fr Pat Donnellan.
    It gives me great hope when I see people making their view clearly while at the same time using language that is truly Christian in tone.
    I may not agree always with the message but I owe it to everyone to listen and speak with respect to the messenger.
    I too struggle to understand the new missal- but I am trying and willing to give it a chance.
    If Pat is typical of the members of the ACP, and I’ve no reason to presume he is not, then surely some of the words used to describe the Association this past week must be reviewed.
    Let us have more of this dialogue please.
    Mark O’Shea.

  3. Mattie Long says:

    On Holy Thursday it was with a sense of sadness and increasing anger that I tried to assimilate the news of the action taken against Tony Flannery and Gerard Moloney by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
    The news certainly coloured Easter celebrations this year and left me with a lingering air of Good Friday rather than Easter morning.
    But we are an Easter people and must seek any chink of light, any hint of resurrection, that brings hope instead of despair, that brings comfort instead of sadness, and brings compassion in the place of harshness and condemnation.
    The many messages of support for Tony and Gerard are just such a chink of light. Even messages that may not agree with their views but which have the imprint of charity and sincerely held views can be so. Any that smack of triumphalism, harshness and condemnation I leave with their authors to ponder their own motivations.
    This evening I read the message of my Diocesan colleague Pat Donnellan with a new air of hope. I find that hope particularly apt this weekend as we celebrate the greatest doubter of all, the apostle Thomas.
    In the Gospel, which many of us will proclaim this Sunday, Thomas made no bones about it. He wasn’t going to believe. He dismissed the stories told by fellow apostles. He dismissed the evidence of the Apostle to the apostles Mary Magdalene, who at any rate for reasons of gender could not be a witness.
    Thomas denied what is a core belief for any Christian, that Jesus rose from the dead.
    How should we react to people who don’t believe as we do?
    Ignore them; presume we know what is right and that their opinion isn’t worth listening to?
    Excommunicate them? Dismiss them from our company; cast them out as worthless, unredeemable? Scold and lecture them, chastise and punish them? Silence them?
    Force them to accept everything in the exact way we accept it?
    How should we react to people who believe as we do in Jesus Christ, but who see different ways of living out that belief? Again is it to ignore or excommunicate, cast out, scold, chastise and punish?
    This week saw the publication of research carried out by the Association of Catholic Priests into the response of Catholics to changes in church structures, into ministry and into how they saw the relevance of church teaching in key areas of their lives.
    The results show what most people were already aware of; that there is a very serious disconnection between official church teachings and what members actually believe and practice and experience in church.
    Again it raises the question concerning differences, not even differences about core beliefs but differences about discipline and man-made rules, and I use the non-inclusive term deliberately. How should we react to people who live their faith differently from us?
    The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, once known as the Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, has reacted in a definite manner; it has instructed Tony Flannery and Gerard Moloney not to speak about certain issues, to be silent.
    Ironically, the issues they have been instructed to remain silent about have received far more publicity than they normally would without the CDF’s reaction.
    But where does it leave us in dealing with differences?
    Maybe we could look at today’s Gospel again for some suggestions.
    Thomas denies what is at the very heart of Christianity, the resurrection. “I refuse to believe” is about as strong a statement concerning the resurrection as you can get.
    But a full 8 days later what do we find?
    Thomas still with the other disciples, he hasn’t been cast out, nor excommunicated, nor dismissed. He was still with them. They were still with him.
    What does Jesus do? Scold and lecture, chastise and punish? No! He shows him the marks of his love for him. He reaches out in genuine love. Jesus speaks to Thomas and Thomas speaks, he is not silent.
    I am willing to admit that I may be totally wrong but that Gospel tells me that the Christian way is to reach out, to include, to listen to and speak with, those who may have different ways of showing belief than I do
    That Gospel tells me that the Christian way is to reach out, to include, to listen to and speak with, those who do not share belief.
    Above all, it tells me to genuinely love and respect them, to love and respect their differences.
    Doubts and uncertainties are normal in life; they are normal in a life of faith. Questioning is inevitable, it is not an enemy of faith. It can lead, rather, to a deepening of our faith. If we face our questions, doubts and reservations honestly, as Thomas did, and bring them to each other and to the Lord, discuss rather than silence them, we too might find ourselves being able to exclaim together, ‘My Lord and my God’.

  4. Fr. Pat and Fr. Mattie, I want to thank you for the moving and honest reflections you have shared with us above. This has been another good day. Earlier we heard fron Fr. Gerry Hefferan from Australia and Fr. Pat Moore from Kerry and Fr. Adrian. What I so admire about you — and this applies to so many of your colleagues since we first became aware of this horrible news about Tony and Gerard on Holy Thursday,– is that none of you have hid behind the cloak of anomymity. As an Irish man abroad, I feel proud of our Irish Church and our Irish priests and the many outstanding men and women of faith who have raised their voices since Holy Thursday. God bless you all.
    Paddy Ferry.

  5. JeannieGuzman says:

    Where were priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals all around the world, when Bishop Morris of Australia was removed from office? Where was their outcry of injustice? Look what happened in Toowoomba, Australia to the much beloved Bishop Morris! He was removed from his ministry by “The Temple Police,” who wrote to Rome and complained about Bishop Morris suggesting that it was time to look at the possibility of ordaining women. The Vatican immediately sent out their Inquisitor, Archbishop Chaput from Denver. After investigating the allegations of the “Temple Police,” Archbishop Chaput brought his findings back to the Vatican. Bishop Morris was immediately removed, and there was NO Explanation! “Why?” The Vatican responded, “For the good of all concerned!” This injustice was done and in fear, many priests and many of the people shut up, out of fear! The Vatican got away with Her Inquisition in Toowoomba, with a Bishop, no less. Now, what’s going to happen? Let’s see if the Vatican can get away with Her Inquisitions again, without an outcry from the real Church!

  6. Jeannie, you must have a look at the current home page of the National Catholic Reporter (NCP) where one of the top stories today is ” Bishops issue rallying call for religious freedom ” The irony of it all!!

  7. Joan Molloy says:

    I am deeply troubled having read in today’s Sunday Times that the theologian Fr Sean Fagan was silenced 2 years ago by the Vatican. And what frightens me most is the threat to him.
    To quote ” It has been made clear to me that if news of the curia’s disciplinary measures become known to the media, I will be immediately stripped of my priesthood. For the sake of my family and friends I will keep my silence. For all practical purposes I am officially dead’.
    Can this possible be true ?
    Is this the Catholic church we are reading about here?
    This sounds so like what they did to the victims of sexual abuse, but that they told us was done in the past, before they understood the damage abuse does to people.
    But if we can believe the Sunday Times the abuse to Fr Sean Fagan, and that is what it is, that was done in 2010.??
    Words fails to describe my upset, horror and disbelief that my church, in the name of Jesus Christ would behave in such a way, to anyone- priest or lay person.
    It is simply unacceptable and must stop.
    Sadly like the sexual abuse of children, it seems it will take media exposure to get the church once again to act with integrity and respect for the people in their care- children or clergy.
    Let us not hear again that the media is against the church.
    In truth it may be it’s best servant.
    For if it wasn’t blowing the whistle on their patterns of abuse would they every behave in a truly Christian way ?

  8. Our parish priest gave another inspirational homily today and I for one am delighted that there are brave men out there willing to speak from their hearts and share the pain they feel as our church continues to look backwards. We need more men and women prepared to speak out when they see injustice or intolerance or stupidity.
    Thanks to the brave men and women who risk so much to speak out. You truly help me to hang in there and believe things can change.

  9. John McParland says:

    I was pleased to read Fr Pat Donnellan’s ( and other priests ) public support of Fr Flannery who has been silenced by Rome after Fr Flannery questioned the papacy’s hardline opposition to ordination of women and priests being allowed to marry. I am conscious that it is not easy for priests to speak out publicly because of fear of what may happen to them, even as some priests fear, perhaps being stripped of their priesthood and I have great admiration for those who do speak out publicly.
    I fully endorse Maureen Bennett’s response to Fr Donnellan’s words and I quote “ there are brave men willing to speak from their heart and share the pain they feel as our church continues to look backwards. We need men ( and women ) to speak out when they see injustice, intolerance and stupidity”. This is what Fr Pat Donnellan has done and I welcome his support for a fellow priest as one of many committed and dedicated priests in Ireland who work tirelessly for their people in sharing and living out the Good News of Jesus Christ in their daily lives.
    There is an urgent need for courageous leadership from priests as well as bishops and lay people to address these issues that are dividing our Church. Dr Daly, Bishop of Derry for 20 years , now retired, was the first senior Catholic Bishop to call for an end to celibacy in the Church. On a personal level, I was so pleased that this former Bishop spoke out so publicly because over 30 years ago after much soul searching and prayer I stepped aside from my studies for priesthood at Maynooth just before diaconate because I felt unable to take on celibacy as part of my commitment to being a Catholic priest. Now married and blessed by God with four beautiful children and a wonderful wife I am a practising Catholic in England and very proud of my Irish background and the gift of faith passed on to me and my brothers and sisters by my dear mother and father. I have also been enriched by the many priests who taught me and students / priests who journeyed with me in our faith journey in Maynooth and owe so much to my education in faith, in Ireland. In my vocation as a teacher I endeavour to bring that same Good News of Jesus Christ to the students, staff and parents with whom I work daily.
    Yes I would love to see our Church embrace a married clergy and women priests and indeed implement the vision of Vatican 11 ….the vision of the Church as the People of God. We live in a world which so badly needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and it is so sad to see priests like Fr Flannery silenced by the Vatican when such issues that he writes about needs to be urgently addressed by all the People of God in our Church. I am also heartened by the call from the Association of Catholic Priests to address these issues as part of the current state of the Church in Ireland at their gathering on 7th May which they are calling “ Towards an Assembly of the Catholic Church in Ireland”. May the Holy Spirit guide and direct that gathering and like Fr Pat Donnellan I too pray “Lord, may we be tolerant of those whose opinion or way of life is different from ours”
    John McParland
    Kent England.

  10. Gerry Burns says:

    It was sad to hear and read about the action taken against Tony Flannery and Gerard Moloney by the CongreGation for the Doctrine of Faith. I don’t know Gerard Moloney other than reading his articles in Reality magazine which are always thought provoking. I have been in Tony Flannery’s on many occassions and have no doubt about his loyalty to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    That to me is what is important in this debate, yes we maybe considered “Dissidents” but loyalty to the Gospel is what is important. In the light of yesterday’s Gospel, would Thomas be considered a “Dissident”, just because he asked questions?
    Yours In Christ
    Gerry Burns

  11. Interesting. The term “dissident” is now being bandied about in a fashion analaguous to “terrorist” in the secular environment. One person’s dissident is, of course, another person’s martyr.
    Regarding the subject matter of the current “questioning”, when are the Roman Catholic authorities going to call on Catholic doctors and TDs to remain celibate so that they can fully devote themselves to their calling 24/7. Not on your life, I fear.

  12. In a way Rome has done us Catholics a favour by silencing both Fr’s Flannery and Moloney. They have woken us up from our slumbers. Roll on May 7th.

  13. Margaret Power says:

    I read with sadness that Fr. Tony Flannery has been silenced. He speaks for many people and they cannot all be silenced. I doubt that he can be effectively silenced. Truth is very sacred and complex. If history has taught us anything it is that despotism does not protect it but it may bury it. However the days when we toed the line passively,silently and fearfully are over. It may take some time for the higher echelons of the Church to realise this. More’s the pity. Those who are openly, humbly seeking a better way must be allowed to speak.As Fr. Pat Donnellan said of the forthcoming Assembly “we look forward to lively and respectful debate.” That to me is the best protector of faith hope and charity. St. Paul had quite a bit to say about these three bulwarks. We forget his emphasis at our peril.

  14. catherine muldowney says:

    Reply to A Rural Priest. If churching of women was not a purification ceremony but a thanksgiving , why weren’t new fathers churched as well? I remember asking my mother not to go through with it at the age of 11, when my sister was born, because even then I knew what it was. I watched her kneel at a side altar of St. Munchin’s church in Limerick one Sunday afternoon, and a young priest held two candles crossed in front of her. This was in 1956. Obviously the fear of womans bleeding at childbirth and menstruation comes from the old Jewish Orthodox tradition. How would men feel if they woke up tomorrow morning and found that every single priest, bishop, cardinal, pope was a woman? Would any man adhere to such a sexist religion? |How do you think one half the human race feels at our treatment by the church? After all St. Paul did say, in the church there
    ‘is neither male nor female’, but i wouldnt agree with all his views on women.

  15. A Rural Priest says:

    Catherine, did you read the text of the ceremony?
    As it is women themselves who go through the experience of childbirth and often had to stay away from church due to the physical demands of late pregnancy and early motherhood, the return of the mother to regular church-going having safely given birth was a proper occasion for thankgiving.
    I KNOW there were all kinds of superstitions amongst the people about it, but I also no that this was NOT reflected in what was a very beautiful blessing and that in their training priests were encouraged to work against that superstition.

  16. Fr Donnellan prayed that we ‘be tolerant of those whose opinion or way of life is different from ours.’… .   Wait a minute !! ….  We must NOT tolerate a way of life that is sinful .  This is why our Blessed Lord died on the cross because he does not tolerate sin but loves the sinner .  Nowadays it seems that the more sin there is around the less people seem to talk about it  .. But this is spiritually crazy and theological insanity . Pope Pius xii wrote that ‘the greatest evil in the world is DENIAL of sin . Archbishop Fulton J Sheen wrote that  ‘ there is one thing that God hates more than sin itself and that is the Denial of Sin ‘ .

  17. Yes, Catherine, I fully agree with what you have said above Re: The churching of women. I too witnessed my mother going through the same ritual at that time. However, I wasn’t as precocious as you were then to question until much later! May I say, yes, Rural Priest I have read as you say the blessing. If it is as you say it is, why was it not given to both parents and also why not still today?? I come from a large family and I can tell you my mother was not present to hold one of us at the altar as we were baptised. Later as I had my own children and what a “Blessing” it was for me and my husband to hold our children at the baptismal font and together give thanks and blessings for creation.

  18. 25 years ago, theologian Prof. Charles E Curran wrote:
    ‘In my view, dissent from the authorita of the authoritative non-infallible hierarchical teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is an effort to support, not to destroy,the credibility of the teaching office. The theological community can play the critical role of the loyal opposition, thus in the long run enhancing the Church’s teaching role. To carry out this role properly, the magisterium must be in dialogue with the whole Church. The primary teacher in the Church remains the Holy Spirit – no one has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit.’
    Am I right in thinking Prof. Curran was also silenced?

  19. I am consistently dismayed by the parochial attitude of clergy in Eire, almost as dismayed as I am by the lack of understanding displayed by the laity. I find it impossible to find decent liturgy in Tuam and am frankly aghast at the comments above about the New Translation as being “unreadable” and “awful” when elsewhere, priests are using it to engender growing devotion & understanding in their flock.
    If the Irish Association of Maths Teachers publish a survey which showed a majority of Irish people believe that 2+2=5, do we conclude that
    a} our mathematical principles are dreadfully outmoded and need to be adapted to the 21st Century reality that 2+2 can equal whatever we want it to?
    b)our teachers have been teaching maths very badly for the last few decades?
    Come on Ireland! Get a grip! Catholics want Catholicism. The 40 year experiment is over, liberalism lost. Ask yourselves why it is that the churches where their every ‘remedy’ has been introduced are not thriving? Worse than that, why have they shrivelled up even faster than the churches that have not altered their teachings?
    I have never heard a satisfactory answer to this question from liberal Christians.

  20. Padraic King says:

    I am saddened to read that Frs Tony Flannery and Gerard Moloney have been ‘silenced’. I just wish to offer them my support at this difficult time.
    The Church which I believe in is founded on the Commandment of LOVE. Anything I have ever heard preached at Retreats or read from the pen of these men was, in my humble opinion, inspired by love.
    The two greatest Commandments given to us by Christ contain the word ‘Love’ and it seems to me to be the least practised and most feared in my Church.
    It is most encouraging to me as a lay person to see so many fine priests speaking out in support of these men.

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