Religious congregations should lift sanctions on six Irish priests

Pope Francis’ rebuke of the Curia for its “inappropriate behaviour” in the censuring of priests, his wish that issues of discipline be dealt with at local church level, and his dramatic re-definition of the phrase ‘sentire cum ecclesiae’ have created a new landscape for dealing with people who have been, in various ways, punished for what the CDF has previously considered ‘unorthodox’ views.
It may, or may not, be a coincidence that the six priests whom we know to have felt the ire of the CDF here in Ireland are all members of religious congregations. And the Irish bishops have made it clear to the Association of Catholic Priests that they do not wish to have any involvement in this matter. That does not surprise me, since I do not tend to expect courageous action from our hierarchy.
But religious congregations have traditionally seen themselves as being positioned more to the edge of the Church, with something of a prophetic role. I am suggesting that the particular congregations whose members are included among these ‘censored’ priests have now got a great opportunity to act prophetically.
I don’t think any reasonable person would regard Eoin O’Sullivan, Iggy O’Donovan, Gerry Moloney, Brian D’Arcy or Sean Fagan as remotely heretical or a danger to the faith, and even less a cause of scandal. (I will leave my own case to be judged by others). It surely makes no sense to have censors appointed to monitor the writings of Eoin, Brian and Gerry. And surely it is also time that these ‘censors’ stopped co-operating with oppressive power structures and refused to accept the role.
So I call on the five congregations, the Augustinians, the Capuchins, the Passionists, the Marists and the Redemptorists to come together and to lift all restrictions on the six of us.
This would be a truly prophetic act, and it would have repercussions right around the world, giving courage and hope to people everywhere, and signalling powerfully that the awful era of fear and repression which we have lived through in the Church had come to an end.
The worst that could happen is that the CDF would object. Then it would be up to Francis to clearly illustrate if his statements are mere words, or something much more powerful.

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  1. Laura Kuntz says:

    Well said. I much hope these orders do so.

  2. Mary Wood says:

    Hear hear! When a religious commits for life to a religious institute, that institute has a responsibility of total care -total – for that one who has entrusted the institute to guide and assist him/her in the journey to God. As Fr Tony comments in his book, it’s only the (women) Benedictines of Erie who have said NOT PYGMALION LIKELY to “Rome” and defended Sr Joan Chittister. Male religious superiors? Silence or ineffectual, inaudible murmurs.
    Too many “responsible” people are mere appeasers.

  3. How wonderful ,just and right it would be if those congregations now acted. Pope Francis has made it clear that these great men who have been censored by the Curia. A Curia rebuked by Pope Francis for its ” inappropriate behaviour” . No need now for any further delay. After all if one person, Sister Chittister’ s superior was able to deal with the Curia when thet tried to prevent Sister Chittister from speaking at a conference, surely the manpower behind five congregations should be able to achieve a similar outcome for their fine men.

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    Cowardice is so deeply ingrained.

  5. kay mcginty says:

    Totally agree with you, Fr. Tony.What a beacon of hope that would be for the future of the Church here in Ireland.

  6. Thanks, Tony, for your wise suggestions and continuing courage.
    Your new book was superb, by the way.
    As a New York, Harvard Law trained lawyer (Mary Robinson got her degree with me), with pure Donegal genes, I have put my best shot into my new piece, “Does Pope Francis Understand What Reform Means”, accessible at:
    My Irish “cousins” should find it of interest.

  7. I totally agree with Fr Tony’s suggestion. All the congregations must come together and in no uncertain manner, tell the CDF enough is enough. I also believe that undiplomatic language must be used to bring these untouchables down to earth. Position, Power, Control, Wealth, is the mantra of these career priests, who have made hell on earth for many good priests. Hopefully they will shortly be gone from their well paid jobs.

  8. Brendan Butler says:

    The core group of We are Church Ireland fully support Fr. Tony Flannery’s call for prophetic action by the five religious congregations to lift all restrictions against their brothers who have been unjustly sanctioned .Silence in the face of injustice is collaboration in the injustice.
    Phil Dunne , Brendan Butler , Dairne Mc Henry , Jerry Mc Carthy ,
    Finbarr Quigley, Jackie Nelson

  9. Malcolm R says:

    Now that would be a significant advance for the heads of the five congregations, the Augustinians, the Capuchins, the Passionists, the Marists and the Redemptorists to act together and to lift all restrictions on the six members.
    If so, it might be the beginning of co-operation, for the benefit of the people of God.
    I Pray the Holy Spirit to inspire these heads, to act as true Christians

  10. Pol @6.
    Thank you for your links. I met Sean Fagan, briefly, at an event in the Priory Institute. It was at the time when his book ‘Does Morality Change?’was under investigation by the CDF. The CDF had placed him under suspicion for six years and the pain and suffering he was going was obvious. It is appalling that his own Marist congregation twisted the knife even further by complying with the CDF. Let us hope the Redemptorists do not do the same to Tony Flannery. Sean Fagan’s writings are like a prison cell being opened and the chains of the CDF’s moral absolutes, ‘especially those concrete acts that are intrinsically wrong’ such as artificial contraception, fall away. I wonder would the ACP print Sean Fagan’s article ‘Spiritual Abuse’?

  11. Nuala, I would like to second your request re Sean Fagan’s essay, Spiritual Abuse.

  12. Nuala, I would like to add my support to your request for the ACP to print Fr Sean Fagan’s essay , Spirutual Abuse.
    Malcolm @ 10, I too,would like to suggest that the Superiors of the five Congregations concerned would act in the decisive manner in which Sister J. Chittister’s superior did. She didn’t allow the Curia to hide behind her or use her as proxy for their own lack of courage and Christian spirit. She acted with the support of her Congregation after much open dialogue and prayer. What a wonderful outcome she had.
    Surely, the Superiors of the relevant congregations must realise that the treatment their men received is insulting, inhuman, and most importantly unchristian. Where does this leave the Curia? It needs to be challenged, or at least asked to explain its behaviour.

  13. martin hunter says:

    Why not invite all the religious congregations to unite and support the five mentioned? There is a sense that the role of the religious order bieng more the Prophet than the priest (or bishop)!

  14. Bob Hayes says:

    No. 7 – Jerry, I see that on your blog you describe yourself as ‘a retired Catholic’…..

  15. richard o'donnell says:

    We read once again the words of the prophet in Fr. Tony’s writing here and prophets have had a difficult task all through their history.Little seems to have changed.
    I really wonder what these religious congregations think is their responsibility to one of their members in need or even what is their purpose. Do they ever think that, even at a selfish level, some day it might be themselves the CDF might attack. Silence and inaction is no prevention, it merely encourages the bully.

  16. No. 15-Nice try Bob. The “retired” modifies “lawyer” not “Catholic”—retired Catholic lawyer.

  17. Mary O Vallely says:

    I am reminded today of Mother Théodore Guérin ( 1798-1856), feast day today, who was ordered by a dictatorial bishop to resign as Superior from the Order she had founded in Indiana .Her sister nuns refused to obey the bishop and re-elected her as Superior. Eventually the Vatican found a replacement for the bishop! Mother Théodore was fortunate to have received great support from her sisters who were not prepared to be dictated to by a less than charitable bishop. With no loss of integrity and giving good witness are they not a great example to the Orders of men here in our own time and place. The Benedictines and Sr Joan Chittester are following in this tradition. Mná abú!

  18. Ned Quinn says:

    Excellent article on Tony Flannery’s situation in the current issue of The Phoenix.

  19. I wonder could we see the piece on Tony’s situation that Ned refers to in the Phoenix on this ACP site.

    It’s not a bad introduction to the situation. Assembled from material in the public domain, ie, nothing new.
    A few points:
    It is not clear to me that Fr. Flannery was initially targeted specifically by Nuncio Charlie Brown, as the article suggests. I think CDF may have identified him before the appointment of the Nuncio (on 26/11/2011), though, as the Nuncio previously worked in the CDF he could have been involved while still there.
    It doesn’t mention that, following Fr. Flannery’s reply to a second angry letter from CDF Head Levada, the latter appeared satisfied to let the matter rest. New Head Muller seems to have stirred the pot and upped the ante.
    Nor does it make clear that Diarmuid Martin has no function in the case of Fr. Flannery, or the other silenced priests, as they are all order men and not under the bishops’ jurisdiction.

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