A Wrong Screaming to be Righted

A Personal Reflection on my current situation

Tony Flannery  07 June 2019

I have found my own blog very useful, and I am grateful to all the people who visit it every now and again. For me it has two specific uses.

The first one is that I have always found that writing something down is a great way of clarifying my ideas and thoughts, and of course the blog helps to spread my ideas, for whatever they are worth.

The second use is therapeutic, a way of looking at what is going on at a deeper level inside me and bringing it out so that I can look at it — getting it off my chest, as we say. This post probably comes under the latter category.

It is now seven years since some of my writings were examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican, and, as a result  I was “withdrawn” from ministry by my own congregation, the Redemptorists — in other words they made an order that I was no longer fit to exercise my ministry as a priest. They said at the time they were under orders from the CDF, and had no choice. But of course in life there are always choices.   

That all seems such a long time ago now; much has happened, and my life has changed greatly. As I have said in other posts on this site, viewing Church and ministry from my newly enforced position has changed my attitudes toward, and my  beliefs in, many aspects of Church, and even faith.

In many ways I have enjoyed these years, appreciating the freedom of thought I have experienced, and also the range of new people I have met through my involvement with Church reform, particularly the international dimension of it. 

I know it would be difficult for me to come back into active ministry now, and, if truth be told, and allowing for my age, my desire to do so has waned. And yet, and yet, there is a hurt, a sense of grievance, bubbling away inside me that I thought I had left behind. The process that was followed by both the CDF and the Redemptorists in deciding to ‘withdraw’ me was wrong, unjust, and should be rectified.

During the years since Francis became pope I have seen a lot change in the Church, and especially in the Vatican, and specifically in relation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is no longer the domineering, all-powerful body it was seven years ago. A perfect example of that is the latest document from Pope Francis, Praedicate Evangelium, on the reform of the Roman Curia. 

The theologian, Richard Gaillardetz, summarises what it says about the change that is needed in the CDF.

“The constitution does address the dicastery’s proper role in safeguarding doctrine, but it links this task with “the courage to seek new answers to new questions. “Regarding situations when the dicastery is called upon to give “authorization for teaching in the Church,” it is explicitly instructed to apply the principle of subsidiarity. (Curial bodies will no longer be known as congregations, but as dicasteries):

This may be a response to past instances when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had refused to grant a nihil obstat to certain professors requiring such ecclesiastical authorization.

The new constitution acknowledges the dicastery’s responsibility to consider potentially problematic “writings” and “opinions,” but in that context it explicitly calls for “dialogue” with those whose work is under consideration.”

This is not the first time Francis has expressed these views; he has greatly reduced the power of that body, and removed Cardinal Muller from his position as head of the CDF. The message he has spelt out in this latest document has clearly been his policy for some time.
In view of this I had requested my Redemptorist superiors, since they had taken the action to withdraw me from ministry in the first place, to restore me to ministry, and simply inform the CDF that they were doing so. They didn’t do as I requested but instead suggested that they would go to the CDF and appeal for clemency towards me. I had no interest in that, because by that action they would be restoring to the CDF the very power that Francis is clearly seeking to take from that body.  I can only conclude that either my superiors were lacking in courage, or maybe they weren’t particularly interested in lifting the sanctions they had imposed on me in the first place. It leaves me feeling a bit alienated from the congregation.  

I am aware that this post could be interpreted as self pity and I don’t want to indulge in the futile exercise of moaning for whatever time is left to me. 

I know, as the song says, that I will survive; but I want to live, not just survive. 


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  1. Gerard Moloney says:

    It is long past time that Tony is brought in from the cold. I would love to see it.

  2. Gemma Lamarra says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Much appreciated. I don’t see it as self pity. There is definitely an injustice that needs addressed. I see it as a healthy self esteem. Thoughts and prayers are with you.

  3. Anne Faulkner says:

    You have not ceased to minister. You have found a new ministry which is reaching a wider congregation. You have spoken with courage and integrity about things that are important for the future of the church. I hope that this can be recognized as something positive in a priest and not something to be punished and banned

  4. Seamus Ahearne says:

    Tony’s words are sad. It is a reminder too of Sean Fagan. Jean Vanier’s description of Pope Francis as introducing ‘a revolution of tenderness’ doesn’t always occur.
    It hasn’t happened for Tony and it didn’t happen for Sean. The background story in our Church, was shaped by the caution of Paul VI. He was fearful lest the world of the Church, might tumble into chaos. The unsaintly John Paul was charismatic and exuded stagecraft. But he was a product of the suppression of freedom by the Soviets in Poland. He could not be other than very careful. Benedict was overwhelmed by the student revolts and the philosophy of relativism. He embraced the absolutes and felt that the Church had to have a certainty of values. Francis has tried to juggle everything and has been attacked on many sides.

    The Church (that many of us know) is a ‘place’ of care, warmth, affection, wonder, love. It is a very privileged ‘place’ where many of us find a real home. It is ‘an oasis’ of heart, support, hilarity, beauty, communion. It draws out the best in us and challenges us to stretch our imaginations and to think out a new language and a new way of celebrating God among us. There are no restrictions. We are only limited by our own ‘caution’, ‘rigidity’, ‘shyness’, and ‘inadequacies.’ Everyday and everywhere, the artist within, and the poet of the Gospel inside us, demands a new approach and a fearlessness in facing a world of different values. There is no room for fear or for defensiveness. All is needed is humility, before the ‘revealing God’ of today. Moaning and groaning or cynical negativity is not an option for someone of faith.

    Tony and Sean (and all the other Tonys and Seans) were not mavericks or outrageous and outlandish heretics. They asked questions. They pursued answers.They were searching for ways of expressing God and Faith and ‘Being Church’ in a new era. That surely is what every minister of Jesus Christ has to do. We have no other option. Every time we open our mouths; every time we write something or enter a discussion; every tragedy we meet; every current issue that arises – we are dredging in the depths of our minds to find something to add to the conversation. Tony and Sean were no different to many of us. Many people think as they did. They were only ‘being ministers of the Gospel’ and living theologians. It is very simple.

    What went wrong? Injustice cannot be done and left quietly to go away. Care for each person is fundamental to the Christian faith. Tony has fought his battle. Rome replies that it has nothing to do with them – it is over to the Redemptorists. This is all very wrong. Many have written to Rome. Some of the Hierarchy has interceded. Letters don’t get answered. This lack of courtesy and care is not the Church we believe in, or know. Something has gone wrong. Institutional dysfunction is common in major organisations. That malaise has to be fixed. It disfigures the face of Christ among us. ‘This cannot happen among you.’ The stupidity in regard to the Missal is an indication of how suffocating and claustrophobic the atmosphere can be, in an unwieldy institution. But it cannot be allowed continue, in regard to justice for people. It is wrong. It is more than embarrassing. It is indeed ‘sinful.’

    Brendan Kennelly has a lovely seductive voice. The women fall into the arms of that voice! But I like a poem he wrote in The Book of Judas. The introduction to that book is longwinded but makes an essential point. I think this poem sums up the case of Tony and Sean.

    In This Respect:

    ‘I know the bloody man’s a bishop
    Don’t I hear him in the pulpit every Sunday
    Tellin’ all the poor workers how to climb up
    To heaven, to accept poor conditions an’ slave’s pay
    An’ why we should obey our bosses
    ‘Cos work is so hard to come by these days
    But why does he sack a priest who wants justice
    For every man and woman in the diocese?

    Father Harty is a fair man, loves the people,
    Knows the bishop is weak to the strong, strong to the weak,
    He speaks an’ writes his mind, he’s not afraid to strike.

    For common men like me. The bishop wants to shift him where he’ll
    Be silent. The bishop says Christ was a humble man
    But in this respect, Christ an’ his lordship are not alike.’

    As we used to say – a long time ago: Quidquid recipitur, ad modum….

    Seamus Ahearne Osa

  5. Donal Dorr says:

    I’m deeply moved by what you have written,Tony, and by the four responses I’ve seen here on this site so far. Maybe this is a situation where the ACP and other concerned people might propose the names of some people who could be mediators on the issue. Mediators, not with the CDF, but with the central leadership people of the Redemptorists, asking them to reinstate Tony, and inform the CDF that they are doing so. This would be in line with subsidiarity.

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