Audio: Tony Flannery Talk in Galway Wed 27 Mar 2024

Audio of Tony Flannery’s talk in Galway on Wed 27 Mar 2024 – The Future of Catholicism.

Tony writes:

This talk was my first in some considerable time, and dealing with more serious and weighty issues around faith and Church.

The crowd was large, estimated 200+, and the response was enthusiastic and highly engaged.

The question and comment section went on for over an hour after the talk. I was tired, but very happy with the evening. It gave me energy, and a conviction that I have something worth saying. So if anyone else wants to organise a gathering, I will be happy to go and talk!

In the Question and Answer session that followed the talk some people expressed the wish to contact the Pope re Tony’s case. It was suggested that the best way to do this is to write to the Pope via the Argentine Ambassadors to the Vatican and Italy:

Details for Argentine Ambassador to the Vatican:

Details for Argentine Ambassador to Italy:

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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Tony’s theological defenders are having trouble with some of his dicta that are guaranteed to stick in the Vatican’s throat. Ambassadors cannot solve this. I think he needlessly gives hostages to fortune.

    He should get a theological editor, What he says about the Gospels is at best the view of a very small minority of scholars. He says they were written 60-150 years after the death of Jesus, and that Matthew is the first of them. The standard, and well-founded, view is that Mark is the first, dated to about 35 years after the death of Jesus, Matthew and Luke use Mark and their gospels are dated to about 80-90 AD. The earliest fragment of the text of John puts a limit on late dating: John is usually dated to 90-110 AD — 60-80 years after the events, not 150. Tony’s dating of John to 180 AD is impossible.

    It’s a new dogma that Jesus had no time for ideas of original sin or atonement, etc. But a quite likely candidate for the status of ipsissima verba Jesus is “the son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” and in the words of the Eucharist (also strongly likely to be historical, attested already in 1 Cor) he talks of his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. The New Testament unfolds all the implications of this, and its vision of the Christ of faith is not incompatible with the Jesus of history.

    Teilhard does not deny original sin but interprets it anew: ‘Thus, original sin for Teilhard is a negative and inevitable structural element in an evolving universe, a universal condition of existence in a progressively converging world. He spoke of original sin as the necessary reaction of the finite to the creative act; the “other side” of the whole creative process’ (google). His book Comment je crois (ET How I believe) is an example of a daring hermeneutics of Christian teaching, which at no point undermines or disrespects it.

    To suggest that Jesus is the son of God (only?) in the sense that we are all children of God, and to pan the Fathers and the Council of Nicaea (on the eve of its 17th centenary) needlessly drags Tony’s appeal to the Pope into deep waters which will make it impossible for the Pope to countenance his views.

    The quotation from De Mello is from the Fourth Lateran Council. One example of how a respectful hermeneutics of scripture and tradition often stumbles on gold.

    Tony Flannery replies:
    Joe, Thank you for taking the time to critique the audio of my talk.
    A few comments on what you have to say.

    I happily cede to your superior knowledge of the minutiae of theology and scripture, and accept that your corrections of my authors and dates are the majority view. Though, maybe, if you had read “After Jesus, Before Christianity” you may not be quite so certain about the majority view. Alas at this stage of my life, I am much more comfortable with minority views, indeed, on many matters.

    You say that my talk does not make it easy for my theological supporters. Do I have some?
    And mostly, you chide me for saying things that will not go down well in the Vatican, and that make it more difficult to have me restored to ministry. If I, in preparing my talk for last Wednesday, had one eye on what would go down well in the Vatican, I would be selling short the people who came to hear me. In the course of my life as a priest I have seen too many theologians doing precisely that, most spectacularly in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae.

    At seventy-seven, and after twelve years during which I was not allowed to do even something as simple as speak on Church property, returning to ministry is not a major issue for me right now. What is still an issue is the fact that I was not allowed anything approaching due process. Anyway, with the changes in the Vatican brought about by Pope Francis, my assessment is that this matter is more in the hands of my religious congregation than those of the Dicastery for the Congregation of the faith.

    The one thing I have looked for from the Vatican, which is independent of whatever views I espouse, is justice. The process by which they dealt with my case lacked even the most basic tenets of natural justice. And I know that many others have suffered in the same way. If Church authority is to become credible again it must learn to ‘act justly’, and walk humbly with their God—as they are at it.

  2. John (Jack) Madigan says:

    Thank you to the ACP for publishing the audio of Tony Flannery’s talk of March 27 at the Clayton Hotel. The Association deserves kudos for its continuing efforts to present a forum and a voice to reflect on, discuss and comment on issues affecting the Church and society today. Tony helps us to explore the possibility of new insights as humanity evolves.

  3. Con Horan says:

    Tony’s presentation was excellent.

  4. Sean O'Conaill says:

    From that recording of Tony’s talk I picked up the following passage, not sure I am catching every word correctly:

    “If you go to the Easter ceremonies over the next few days they’ll be full of talk about Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins – a doubtful way of thinking because it raises the whole question of the anger of God and God ???? our humanity. Jesus in his preaching always spoke about a God of love and a God who is close to us.”

    I know well where this is coming from – St Anselm’s 1098 theological emphasis upon divine ‘satisfaction’ – but there is a non sequitur there nevertheless.

    Specifically, why associate anger with someone who takes away the burden that attaches to either:

    – recurring remorse and self-loathing over misdeeds that have indeed been committed, or:
    – a mistaken sense of guilt over evils that are none of our fault.

    As even the apostles had abandoned Jesus at his arrest, that first burden surely lay heavily upon them until the Resurrection – which was clearly seen then by the first Christians as God the Father’s forgiveness of them as well. By his death AND resurrection Jesus had taken that burden away.

    It was the Resurrection, not the Crucifixion, that founded the missionary verve of the church – because the raising of Jesus was attributed to the Father – who had given them Jesus to overthrow the authority of the ‘Prince of this World’ responsible for his accusation and condemnation – via Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate and the accusing crowd. (All three were gripped by acute ‘power vertigo’ – aka status anxiety.)

    As for the second mistake, in Luke 13:1-3 Jesus tackles and dismisses the belief that Roman imperial brutality was a divine judgement on those who suffered it. That tells us that this was a probably a common misconception – especially on the part of the poor who could not afford Temple expiation – so the Resurrection was a denial not only of Jesus guilt but the guilt of anyone for tolerating Roman power – now seen as ‘passing away’. From now on no Christian believer could be shamed by Roman brutality – so death itself was not shameful (as Roman pagan belief tended to maintain).

    The ‘new life’ that e.g. Irenaeus understood as the Father’s gift via Jesus was very different from the ‘satisfaction’ that Anselm unfortunately attributed to God as the reason for the crucifixion, c 1098. It is time obviously to return to the ‘Christus Victor’ understanding of atonement – but surely not time to overthrow the notion that the Trinity mean to ‘take away’ (i.e. cancel) our sins.

    As for Tony’s insistence that the Gospels are not strictly ‘history’ this is very ‘old hat’ but very far from establishing that the Gospels do not accurately render historical truth. History books are extremely useful, but none of them ever persuaded anyone to pray. They are always temporary reconstructions of the past, and are not what anyone looks for ‘in extremis’.

    History itself changed with the belief that Jesus had changed it – and the Gospels explain why. They are therefore historically authoritative as sources for understanding both past and present. That Matthew had an ‘agenda’ is true but very far from establishing that we shouldn’t believe that Gospel. Everyone expressing a firm conviction has an agenda, so must we abandon all firm convictions?

    The ‘original sin’ for all of us is to doubt our own value as children of God. Praise be the Trinity for taking that away also, somewhere, for thousands every day.

  5. Dermot Quigley says:

    Fr. Flannery in the above talk, denies the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church on Original Sin.

    This is of course an egregious Heresy.

    It raises major questions about the Sacrament of Baptism.

    Furthermore, it renders the INFALLIBLE Teaching of Pius IX, of Blessed Memory, on the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, meaningless.

    There are probably other implications as well.

    I have written to the Redemptorist Provincial, asking if he can do anything to prevent the spread of the pernicious Heresy of Fr. Flannery. I have copied Fr. Flannery and the office of Archbishop Montemayor on this.

    I am praying daily for Fr. Flannery to embrace the Perennial Binding Public Revelation of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    Regina Caeli Laetare

  6. Joe O’Leary says:

    Original Sin is a doctrine that has been reinterpreted a million times since the 1960s, and even before if we consider Teilhard. It’s an idea emerging in the late fourth century Latin church, chiefly an Augustinian theologoumenon, and partly based on a mistranslation of a verse in Romans. It’s not on the same level as the doctrines of the Creed (the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed) or of Chalcedon.

    Much of what Fr Tony says is less innovative than it sounds. “In him we live and move and are” (Acts 17:28, an allusion to Zeus in a Greek poem called Cretica, written by Epimenides around 600-700 BCE); “in us God lives and moves and is” does not contradict this— yes, the Spirit cries Abba! in the depth of our souls (Romans 8), Christ dwells in us making us children of God, and the Father dwells in us too — it’s the classic doctirine of the indwelling Trinity.

    Some German mystics such as Angelus Silesius use radical language to the effect that “If I did not exist, God would not be”; but apart from the difficulty of knowing what those writers are trying to say, their startling utterances might be pressed into a tolerable meaning. It’s a pity Meister Eckhart died before his trial could be held, as he might have been able to give a clearer exposition of his views.

  7. Sean O'Conaill says:

    “… there is far more evidence extant in favour of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin than of Rousseau’s doctrine of Original Virtue.”

    That was the liberal intellectual Conor Cruise O’Brien at the Millennium*. Embroiled as he was in the long torture of the Irish Troubles as well as conflict in e.g. Africa, O’Brien was obviously referring to the dismal dominance of patterns of conflict in human affairs. St Augustine of Hippo was more burdened by the intractability of his own libido as a young man, but both of those concerns echo the Bible itself: we humans tend to ‘mess up’ – and do not seem capable of fixing this problem without reliance on a ‘higher power’.

    For me René Girard’s discovery of mimetic desire – our unconscious tendency to adopt the desires of others who seem superior to ourselves – is validated in my own life, in the world around me, in history and in the biblical record – including Genesis. James Alison offers it as an interpretation of original sin in ‘The Joy of Being Wrong’ – but this is for academics.

    Would we unconsciously adopt the desires of others if we did not doubt our own value, our own ‘sufficiency’, as we are?

    So I rest on the conviction that it is that aboriginal sense of insufficiency, even of shame, that constitutes our greatest weakness. I prefer the term ‘original frailty’ to ‘original sin’ – because even the Catechism insists that original sin is an inherited condition – not something that we as individuals ‘commit’.

    The letter of James (4:1,2) long precedes Girard’s observation that imitative desire leads inevitably to conflict over what cannot be shared. If we are psychologically programmed to imitate it would make sense that a benevolent creator would seek to provide us at some stage with a model whom all could imitate without violent consequences – and Jesus fits that description. We do not need to believe that Adam and Eve were actual historical persons to believe that there is an aboriginal pattern of failure and conflict in human affairs, and that by the imitation of Christ in his love of all of us we can change that – by relying on God’s grace.

    Having experienced the mercy of the Trinity in my own greatest trials I find I can believe that Jesus’ mother Mary did not have this weakness – that from the beginning she was content to trust completely in God. This is the only sense I can make of ‘conceived without sin’: I hope it is enough.

    * On the Eve of the Millennium: The Future of Democracy Through an Age of Unreason – By Conor Cruise O’Brien

  8. Paddy Ferry says:

    Tony, I have listened to and really appreciated your talk in the Clayton Hotel. All very well said. Sincere thanks to the ACP and our Moderator for sharing it with us all.
    I hadn’t quite thought about it but, of course, you are correct in your opinion that in this new enlightened era of Francis it is now up to your own congregation to act. So, why don’t they?

    I was vexed for you when you were, once again, recently forbidden to speak in a church property. Now, whoever made that decision was not some faceless official in Rome but an Irish man somewhere, probably close to you. Where was his humanity, even his Irish humanity? I am now once again remembering your sister, Geraldine’s death and funeral. What does this institutional church do to men who were once, you would have to assume, decent human beings? Anyway, that is for another day and another conversation.

    You were correct that there was, in those ancient days, a bit of a trend of important figures being conceived by divine intervention. The only really famous one that I know of was Octavian who brought peace to the world — the world then being the Roman Empire — after a hundred years of turmoil, the last twenty of which was civil war. Octavian, grandnephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, became Caesar Augustus, who was supposedly conceived through the power of the god, Apollo, conceived in his mother, Atia. I think there was a serpent involved as well, if I remember correctly.

    The other parallel with Jesus was that according to Roman imperial theology Octavian was redeemer of the world, son of God and God incarnate. And, he lived around the same time as Jesus, he died in 14AD. Interesting parallels!

    Like you, Tony, I find it hard to accept Jesus having to die such a brutal death to appease his angry Father. Obviously, not such a loving God. That was the accepted teaching until very recently, no matter how we may now try to dress it up.

    Then I came across what the late, great Joseph Fitzmyer SJ had to say in his writing on Romans: “Paul never says that Christ was sacrificed for our sake. That notion enters the later theological tradition …….” I have quoted this many times on this site. That does seem to support my early, uneducated gut feeling feeling which I had long harboured.

    Seán, I know you always go back to René Girard’s discovery of mimetic desire but I just find that too avant garde.

    Joe, before we start to discuss who Jesus was, ie, what was the nature of Jesus, surely we should, first of all, ask ourselves what is our actual understanding of the nature or reality of the Father God we claim to believe in. In one of Tony’s essays, the Language of Doctrine, I think, he asked us do we still see God the Father as this stern, male figure looking down, keeping an eye us from heaven. This was the image we learned at our mother’s or our granny’s knee and, to be honest, I had never really thought very much about. But, after reading Tony’s essay, I did start to think seriously about it and, I realised that no, that is no longer the image of God that I am comfortable with. Then I read Diarmuid Ó Murchú’s wonderful book, “Incarnation. A New Evolutionary Threshold”. What an amazing education that was! I then shared it with Newman Association friends over here in Edinburgh who were equally impressed and I could, once again, brag about the great scholar priests we have in Ireland.

    I was already familiar with the Gaia Hypothesis of the late James Lovelock, 1919-2022 (what a long life) of the earth being a living, self-regulating organism but Diarmuid’s book took it to another level.

    Also, Joe, of course you are correct in saying that Mark is accepted as the earliest of the gospels — I am sure Tony was aware of that — if indeed Mark or someone in his community did, in fact, write that piece of scripture. Paula Fredriksen, Professor of Scripture at Boston University and, also, visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who has specialised in the history of early Christianity tells us in her book, “Jesus” that, actually, we don’t know who wrote the gospels. Apparently, originally they circulated anonymously and only later were they credited to prominent figures in the movement.
    That did knock me off balance for a wee while. Interesting woman, Paula, a convert from Catholicism to Judaism.

    Tony, I think you summed it all up perfectly when you talked about “rigid dogma from way back that doesn’t make sense anymore”. How true! And, of course, dogma defined at a time when there was no knowledge of science, basic science or social and behavioural science. It was a time of complete ignorance relatively speaking.

    It was the late, great Seán Fagan in “What Happened to Sin” (another marvellous book by a great Irish scholar priest) who brought this fact to my attention when he informed us that anatomists only discovered the female uterus — or was the ovary? — as late as 1850. Of course, until then the woman’s body was regarded as merely a receptacle to receive the semen — ie, seed — which contained the complete blueprint of the embryo. There was no knowledge of genetics, nor of the XX and the XY chromosome. There was complete ignorance of the essential part played in the genesis of the new human being by the woman.

    However, for people like Dermot what need is there for all that science nonsense when you have an INFALLIBLE figure sitting in Rome!!

    Tony, what a pity Teilhard de Chardin did not live longer as he probably have been one of the great fathers of the Council like the others who were victimised and silenced in the days before John XXIII, like Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar and others.

    Joe, as I try and learn more about my faith and educate and enlighten myself, the one thing that I become more and more certain of is the actual uncertainty around so much of what we were innocently led to believe in our younger, more naive lives. It can be unsettling and disconcerting. However, I am happy that I have been able to gain a more mature understanding of my faith — you, Tony, Seán and others on this site have contributed to that — while my mental, cognitive apparatus is still in relatively good nick.

    Finally, I think we should heed the words of the great W B Yeats that we should regard knowledge not as a threatening bird of prey but, rather, as a beautiful butterfly.

    Goodnight agus beannachtaí,


  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Tony is quoted in the Irish Times some time back as saying: “All the issues that I spoke and wrote about, and that the CDF (Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) objected to, around priesthood, women and Catholic sexual teaching, are now being discussed widely and freely right around the Church, with no fear of sanctions.”

    But now the issues seem to have morphed into much bigger ones. I think Pope Francis would be quite unsympathetic to some of what Tony said in his last interview with Patsy McGarry, especially as the Vatican prepares to celebrate the 17th centenary of the Nicene Creed. A friend of the Pope, who was willing to take up the case as initially presented, confirms that this is so.

  10. Paddy Ferry says:

    I hope you’re wrong, Joe. In civil society Tony would have served his time by now with due process though with initial due process, which was not accorded to Tony, there would have been no time to serve.
    Tony is now seeking justice which he surely deserves.
    I hope Francis’s Jesuit friend was a good advocate for Tony.

    Paddy Ferry

    1. Joe O'Leary says:

      Paddy, are you apprised of the stalemate between Tony and the CDF?

      The idea of approaching the Pope personally could be dangerous, since all of Tony’s views and statements would spill out, rather than having the case confined to the issues explicitly mentioned in his quarrel with the CDF (viz. female ordination, homosexuality, gender ideology).

      Given that many of us share Tony’s views on those particular issues, there is an unfairness in the Vatican’s treatment of him (but like Ratzinger, they might reply: give us your names and we’ll examine you as well). But practically, how does one formulate a possible reconciliatory stance, on which neither side sells out their positions?

      Remember that there are now many right wing priests who have been suspended for rejecting Vatican II, etc. The suspension of Bishop Strickland has caused great anger among his fans.

      The Sri Lankan theologian Tissa Balasuriya, who was excommunicated in 1997 for remarks on Mary, Original Sin, etc., was reconciled with the Vatican. Maybe the formula of reconciliation could indicate the way to a practical solution in Tony’s case?,papacy%20of%20John%20Paul%20II.

  11. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #8 “The only really famous one that I know of was Octavian who brought peace to the world — the world then being the Roman Empire — after a hundred years of turmoil, the last twenty of which was civil war.”

    This is unfortunately to extol yet again the Caesarean myth – that a durable peace can indeed by created by the ambition of a gifted autocrat – ignoring the fact that the crucifixion of thousands was always the background story of the Pax Romana, that war and enslavement was ongoing continuously on the frontiers in Augustus’ reign and that already in Augustus’ time the German frontier was sounding the death knell of Caesarean ambition.

    It was surely this historic romanticisation of Caesarism that fuelled the grandiosity of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the early 1900s – probably the most oblivious of the sleepwalkers of 1914.

    To call René Girard ‘avant garde’ in 2024 when his insight on the connection between mimetic desire and violence was first articulated in the 1960s is surely not an option. That Caesarism arose out of Roman envy of the Greek Alexandrian empire (i.e. out of Julius Caesar’s mimetic desire to be another Alexander the Great) is on the record, as is the origin of Putin’s war in Ukraine in his envy of the west (i.e. his mimetic desire to be a Russian Czar – i.e. Caesar). Is it therefore truly ‘avant garde’ (i.e. too dubiously obscure) to say that, or to point out that in declaring that ‘the first shall be last’ Jesus of Nazareth was offering an ever-valid alternative to Julius Caesar’s foundation of Caesarism on his ruthless need to be first in Rome?

    Is it ‘avant garde’ to suggest that Caesarian ambition (e.g. that of Adolf Hitler to be another Caesar) is the obvious origin of the crucifixion of the weak today in Gaza, as it was of Crassus’s crucifixion of the 6000 followers of Spartacus in 71 BC, along the Appian way?

    Do we really need to go on sleepwalking because waking up is too avant garde? Would it not be more sensible to acknowledge that wanting what one’s neighbour has (i.e. his perceived greater status or ‘being’) is indeed the root cause of all violence, and that the following of Jesus (who envied no one) – and the 9th and 10th commandments – is the obvious – and only – way out?

  12. Sean O'Conaill says:

    A question for Joe, re the ‘Exsultet’, the triumphant proclamation hymn in the Easter vigil service. It includes the following:

    “It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart
    and with devoted service of our voice,
    to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
    and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.

    “Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,
    and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
    wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.”

    What can you tell us, Joe, about the history of this hymn of praise – and especially about the above wording re ‘Adam’s debt’. How far back can that be dated?

    It does not necessarily follow, of course, that this wording supports, or was intended to support, a theological theory of divine anger until the crucifixion. Misdeeds, especially violent ones, can lie for generations or even centuries on the conscience of a people who commit them – so that the ‘taking away’ somehow of the burden of those can easily be seen as driven by God the Father’s compassion and empathy rather than anger.

    Take for example the recent discovery of the degree of complicity of the Church of England in the Atlantic slave trade, and our own church’s part in e.g. the Canadian residential schools for the children of First Nations people. There is surely a need for a reparative process, and for the seeking of God’s forgiveness, in those cases – and for hope that in time this ‘memory burden’ can be lightened if never quite forgotten.

    Nevertheless it would be interesting to know the full history of the Exsultet, so I hope Joe (or someone else) can help?

  13. Paddy Ferry says:

    Seán@8, thank you for that very thoughtful and learned — as always — contribution to this discourse. You certainly know much more than I do for the so-called Pax Romano.

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    The clause that Sean picks out is translated variously: for instance, here it reads: “Who paid for us to his eternal Father the debt of Adam: and by his sacred blood cancelled the guilt contracted by original sin.”

    “Qui pro nobis ætérno Patri Adæ débitum solvit,
    et véteris piáculi cautiónem pio cruóre detérsit.”

    “Who for us paid off Adam’s debt to the eternal Father and with his sacred blood washed away the penalty of the ancient decree”.

    The theological background of this is rather vague: the chant “seems to have its origins in the 4th and 5th centuries in the churches of Spain, Italy and France, and was only slowly adopted into the liturgy of the Church of Rome.”

    I suppose that the precise teaching of Augustine on Original Sin is not part of the background. St Ambrose, himself a liturgical hymnist, might be relevant. His account of Original Sin is cruder than Augustine’s:,the%20question%20of%20original%20sin

    (One text of) Ambrose’s hymn Iam surgit hora tertia has the lines:

    Haec hora qua finem dedit
    Diri veterno criminis,
    Mortisque regnum diluit,
    Culpamque ab aevo sustulit.

    This is the hour that brought an end
    to that long-standing grievous sin,
    demolished then the realm of death,
    and rid the world of ancient guilt.

    Of course the revolutionary line in the Exsultet is the Felix Culpa one — wherein the ancient weight of sin and condemnation is transformed into a blessing because it won so great a redemption (cf. Romans 5:20: Where sin abounded, grace superabounded)

  15. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #15 Thanks Joe – fascinating as ever. ‘ Felix culpa’ is indeed is indeed the key to lifting the hangup on ‘original sin’. To attach ‘guilt’ to a fragility that is an inherited part of being human is surely a mistake.

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