‘Let’s not return to policing theologians ‘ – NCR editorial

If fidelity oaths seem like something out of the Crusades, contemporary Catholics might be surprised to hear that the Vatican is still requiring some theologians and pastors to sign them.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said that Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery must affirm the church’s official positions on male-only priesthood, LGBTQ relationships, civil unions and gender identity. If the Irish priest does not sign the four fidelity oaths, his suspension from the priesthood will remain indefinite, according to a letter from the doctrinal congregation. If he does sign the oaths, he also will be required to not speak publicly about matters in the oaths.


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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Amazing that the Middle Ages live on so wonderfully in the Vatican 150 years after the bombardment of the Porta Pia. They don’t put people in dungeons, but they do construct mental dungeons and punish the victims with social ostracism. The Inquisition, renamed the Holy Office (1908) and CDF (1965) cannot change its stripes. It has done nothing of any value for a long time, and to find some outlet for its energies it has been playing a cat and mouse game with an inoffensive Irish pastor, who “must affirm the church’s official positions on male-only priesthood, LGBTQ relationships, civil unions and gender identity” and if he “does not sign the four fidelity oaths, his suspension from the priesthood will remain indefinite” while “if he does sign the oaths, he also will be required to not speak publicly about matters in the oaths.” It would be kind to call this Kafkaesque. Stalinist might be more accurate. But essentially it is ridiculous and is making the church look ridiculous. The CDF has had many outbursts of this inquisitorial zeal, always backed by loud cries from an ignorant mob who want to see alleged heretics scapegoated. Francis may have thought that sacking Müller would defang the CDF, but under Ladaria it seems to have got worse, perhaps because he cannot control the underlings put in place by the previous Prefects.

  2. Sean O’Conaill says:

    What’s far worse than the ‘ridiculous’ CDF is the complicity of the Irish Bishops in allowing it effectively to shut down frank dialogue between clergy and people in Ireland for a full half-century – the key reason for the total collapse of adult Catholic faith formation here, and the ongoing dishonest charade of Irish Catholic ‘faith’ schools.

    “That would stir up a hornets’ nest” – this was the overheard reason given by a senior priest of a northern diocese in the 1980s for not wanting to hear lay questions on a rousing talk he had just delivered on the importance of Vatican II in ‘advancing the role of lay people’ in the church.

    And so there was no such advance. So why has no Irish bishop even yet dared to say that – not even the present Archbishop of Dublin who abandoned plans for a diocesan synod and doesn’t even yet have a diocesan pastoral council? And why can the Irish Bishops not even yet dare to admit that the virtually total reliance that followed on schools for faith formation has been an utter failure?

    Instead ‘secularism’ and ‘secular media’ get the blame – when no more perfect Union for the Advancement of Secularism in Ireland was ever devised than the embargo on adult communion in the Irish Church imposed by that supine roll-over of the Irish Bishops’ Conference to the Vatican and the CDF – post Humanae Vitae.

    Has Pope Francis even yet been told that, when he complains about a ‘fixation on sex’ by those who oppose him?

    The total Irish episcopal silence on the most recent CDF ruling on Tony Flannery is not just an injustice to Tony. It’s an abdication of leadership of the entire generation that remembers Vatican II and a betrayal of the council itself.

    Who now remembers Cardinal Conway’s 1966 prediction of the end of Irish clerical paternalism and of a revitalised church of priestly dialogue and listening? Which Irish bishop has even yet dared to summarise the reasons that never happened, with complete honesty – and why instead the roof fell in?

    Or why even today in the Irish Catholic church we get to discuss nothing freely, priests and people together – while in secular space there is nothing that CANNOT be discussed?

    There, right there, is the complete legacy of the CDF in protecting Catholic faith in Ireland. What happened to Tony, Gerry, Owen, Seán and Brian and others similarly outspoken is nowhere near a full accounting of the damage. Far, far worse was the damage to those who couldn’t put their heads above the parapet – and still can’t – and the consequent perishing of Cardinal Conway’s vision of 1966.

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    Very powerful stuff, Joe and Seán and absolutely spot on. What a brilliant critique of the CDF, Joe. Yes, it is Stalinist and, also, essentially ridiculous and, of course, the “ignorant mob”!!

    So, why do they get away with it? I am sure you are right, Seán, the Irish bishops are basically hopeless. I have described on this site a few times now my 10 minutes face to face with Diarmuid Martin over here in Edinburgh when he attended a conference on Towards a Common Vision of Church and I put it to him that surely he, as a senior bishop or as part of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, could end the scandal of the abusive mistreatment of Tony and others. I got the impression he just wasn’t up for it.

    On the subject of being able to freely discuss in an open, honest, adult way, clergy and laity together, matters that concern our church, I have to say that perhaps Ireland is not as bad as some other places. We have this ACP site for starters. I can just imagine the reaction of bishops in some other places if a group of priests had the courage and the initiative to form a new Association of Catholic Priests.

    One thing that disturbed me recently was something Paddy Agnew said in his Sunday Independent article – a week last Sunday – in his piece on Scandal and dirty tactics in the Vatican. Referring to Tony’s recent new “request” from the CDF, he wrote: “Incidentally, Vatican insiders point out that this latest CDF reprimand inevitably came with full papal approval.” I am not quite sure what is the significance of the word “inevitably” in this context. However, it doesn’t seem to match with the image of Francis we have all grown to love. So, surely not.

    Another thing that I read in that article that might interest you, Joe, is that Vatican investigators believe that up to €1.1m was sent from Vatican Secretariat accounts to witnesses at the Pell abuse trial in Australia. Pell had just arrived back in Rome that week and congratulated Francis for sacking Cardinal Becciu and he told Francis he hopes he continues “the cleaning of the stables” at the Holy See. Must we all regard Pell as one of the good guys now?
    Apparently, it is thought that there has been embezzlement of Holy See funds to the tune of €454m, from funds which include Peter’s Pence and the Pope’s own reserved account.
    When I became aware of Marcinkus, probably around 1980, and his crimes as overlord of the Vatican Bank, Banco Ambrosiano, Calvi, Gelli and all that, I decided I would never again donate to Peter’s Pence.

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