Bishop: Irish hierarchy should reach out to priests like Fr. Tony Flannery

Sarah Mac Donald
For the first time, an Irish bishop has indicated it is time for the Irish hierarchy to reach out to priests like well- known Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who was censured by the Vatican in 2012. [1]
Speaking to NCR at a conference on mercy in Dublin, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry admitted that unless the bishops are seen to be “willing to go way beyond our comfort zone then people will say you are just a group looking after yourselves.”
Asked about the plight of Flannery and other Irish priests censured by the Vatican, he responded, “We have to be constantly reaching out — that is the job of followers of Christ. What form that will take as regards to the individuals you talk about is another thing.”
He also referred to Pope Francis’ comments that the church must be seen to be building bridges rather than building walls.
“We can never retreat behind walls,” McKeown said, adding that this applied to dealings with people who have been abused by the church in the past, priests who have left ministry and priests who have been censured in one way or another.
“It takes time to listen and to talk and to build bridges and to have an openness to hear their story.”
Referring to the gospel narrative of the prodigal son, McKeown said the father in it “wasn’t concerned about his dignity or what people might think.” The love that he had for his son and the “desire to reach out was much stronger than any social niceties or his dignity as the paterfamilias.”
The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, of which Flannery is a co-founder, has, on a number of occasions, raised the fact that the Irish bishops have not intervened in the case of Flannery and has failed to meet with ACP leadership, which represents over 1,000 Irish priest members.
Responding to the comments, Flannery told NCR he was pleased to see that McKeown has called on the church authorities to “reach out” to him and other Irish priests who have been censored in various ways by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“With the exception of a letter of support I received from the Priests Council in Killala diocese, this is the first time in the four years, since being forbidden to minister publicly, that a bishop has called for some action from the Irish hierarchy,” the 69-year-old related.
He explained that while he has received “great support from many people and priests,” he has also experienced “how quickly and completely church authorities shut you out as soon as the Vatican moves against you.”
Referring to McKeown’s uncertainty over the form this “reaching out” might take, Flannery responded, “My answer to that is simple. All I have ever looked for in relation to myself and others who are accused of ‘dissent’ is a process that is fair, just and transparent.”
He added, “The present CDF process is a scandal, and brings shame on our church.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin on Palm Sunday warned in his homily that reform and renewal in the church will never be brought about by leaving the church.
Referring to the gospel account of the passion, the archbishop said, “It tells how we are called to live if we wish to bring reform and renewal to the church of Jesus Christ.”
He added that the church will not be reformed “by cries from outside of those who do not believe.” Renewal, Martin commented, is a matter of faith and of understanding what it means that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.
“So many things damage the face of Christ in his church. So many things damage the body of Christ.”
The challenge for the faithful is not to follow the short-cuts of the disciples who found that fleeing was the quick and easy answer, he suggested.
“If we really understand how we all belong to the one body then we cannot feel that the answer to renewal in the church can come about by leaving the church or by leaving it to others,” the archbishop underlined.

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  1. I point out to the bishop, that Pope Francis has built some bridges with some people, mostly outside the RC Church. In the debacle with the religious sister of the U.S.A., I’m sure Pope Francis told the Vatican…”Just to get that cleaned up”. Reconciliations and heart-heart-meetings have yet to dominate the day-to-day communications at the Vatican and with Pope Francis. Perhaps, the Irish bishops might lead the way in this regard!

  2. It’s not about Tony Flannery but about hearing the laity and giving them a forum. Bishops have been foot-dragging on this for 50 years.

  3. It’s difficult to understand, in year of mercy,that difference in understanding can invite exclusion and lack of dialogue. Bridges not walls? One thinks of Tony Flannery, Hans Kung and others and thinks of Peter & Paul in disagreement.

  4. I’ve expressed this previously but the task of the ACP or the PI or the AUSCP is to give them something to investigate. Is enough noise being made? The purpose of forming an association is to create a united front around Tony but this can’t be done without strategic movement. Start with a street team educating the Catholic public at large about what the Associations stand for and whether or not Catholic public opinion favours them. Is there a reason why the petition process stopped? I know one of the main features of the US Association is not to create impediments with Rome. What does that get you? How do you communicate your message? Create a sponsored Facebook ad, target your Irish demographic and link an on-line questionnaire. Run this sponsored ad for a year and see what the results are. Is it costly? Hardly. What will the results be? Results = ammunition.
    We’re not asking to wage a war against the Vatican, but what you are asking for has shaken the foundations of the Church in a positive way. Those who do not see it as such, are holding on to an old model of thought that no longer exists within the coming generations. Is there a spot for Roman Catholics in the future? You bet there is, especially with your vision and Pope Francis’s mandate. You want to get Pope Francis’s attention, you better start speaking his language : the environment. As you step up and show your commitment, communication will suddenly emerge. Remember, he published a progressive rock album and champions the environment. What is holding you back?

  5. Tony Flannery came to mind when I read Richard Rohr’s meditation yesterday.
    ” Power coalesces and corrupts no matter who has it………………
    Catholics would have crucified Jesus too if he had critiqued the Catholic Church the way he did his own religion”
    Everything I have heard and read about Tony tells me that if we have to have saints in our church then it is his
    christ-ianity : his courage and compassion for people that I want to be inspired by.
    I wonder though if is it time for some self- compassion on Tony’s part. If it is time to ‘have better things to do’ than give more of it to those who “do not know what they do”.
    As I think about that and how you were out of the media spotlight for some time – maybe you have already decided to brush the dust from your feet.

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