My Mass of Celebration



Tony Flannery

23 January 2017

Yesterday, in the Killimordaly Community Centre, I celebrated a public Mass for the first time in five years, since I was forbidden to minister publicly. I chose to do it to mark my seventieth birthday, and in the Centre because I would not be allowed to do it on Church property.
I thought a good bit before I made this decision, sometime in late November. (See an earlier blog for my reasons). I had no idea then what it would become. To sum it up in one sentence, I would say that yesterday would come close to being the loveliest day of my life.
It began to happen a couple of weeks ago, when I made my intentions public. Immediately, with only a tiny number of exceptions, messages of support and approval began to pour in from Ireland and many parts of the world. That was great. But what was even more remarkable was the groundswell of support I began to sense in the local area. People began to ring me offering to help, and within a short time the community had taken over all the planning of the event. What I had envisioned as a simple Mass in a hall holding about two hundred and fifty people soon developed into the prospect of something much bigger. One person, a well-known local musician and public representative, offered his services, and that he would bring some singers with him. Another couple sponsored a marquee. A young man who had recently purchased an outdoor screen, said he would be delighted to give the use of it for the day. My cousin offered to install a sound system. The local hurling club said they would look after traffic and parking, and Foroige would hand out leaflets. The Earl Inn would provide refreshments. Noirin Ni Riain was coming, and would add her special expertise.
The day itself was bright and crisp, but completely dry, which was important because we knew that many people would be out in the open.
I decided beforehand that this Mass was going to be a celebration, so I would have no negativity, rancour, complaining or criticising. And, on the day, I stayed strictly to that.
The Mass, for me, was emotional, but beautiful. I have celebrated many big Masses over the years, at missions and novenas, but nothing that touched me to the core like this one. My friend, Marie Morrissey, from Loughrea, introduced the whole event, and welcomed the people. I had not intended having any concelebrants, but Willie Cummins asked to join, and his presence definitely added to the occasion. The music was wonderful, both the choir of about thirty women with Ciaran Cannon, and Noirin’s unique contribution. People have commented to me about what a friendly, happy occasion it was, how everyone, locals and those who had come long distances, felt a strong sense of community. Sometimes necessity can bring blessing. I had five hundred hosts, and I knew they would not be enough, so I invited the people, when they took the host, to break and share it with others. This added to the closeness, the sense of belonging. In my homily I stressed that God is present in everyone of us, not just in the host, so by being together we were bringing God to each other. And I invited everyone, as long as they had any sense of the Divine in their life and in this gathering, to come to communion.
Killimordaly is a rural area in the centre of county Galway. It is traditional in many ways. The way they responded, and took part, showed clearly to me how much has changed in our Church. Diktats from the Vatican, or any Church authority, do not carry much weight any more. A Church leader, if he is to be credible, must in future be a listener, who is with the people. Otherwise he will not be a real leader. (What I am saying here is not original; Pope Francis is constantly saying this to the wearers of mitres.)
While I grew up in this community, and in the house where I am now living, I have spent most of my life away, and in a profession which traditionally created something of a barrier between you and the people. The past few weeks I have felt this outpouring of support, even of love. I am reminded of the quote from T.S. Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
That quote has taken on a new meaning for me. It is good.


Press coverage

The National Catholic Reporter
Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery celebrates Mass after five year ban
Sarah Mac Donald
DUBLIN Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery has said he is not anticipating any backlash from the Vatican over his celebration of a public Mass last Sunday in contravention of a ban on public ministry imposed on him by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
The 70-year-old Irish missioner described the liturgy, which was attended by up to 800 people, as “emotional and beautiful.”
“I have celebrated many big Masses over the years, at missions and novenas, but nothing that touched me to the core like this one.” He added that the occasion “would come close to being the loveliest day of my life.”
Flannery, who is a co-founder of the reform-minded Association of Catholic Priests, said he was “not worried about excommunication” by the church and didn’t “anticipate” any excommunication under Pope Francis and “even less so in the context of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland next year.”
Referring to the “volume of support and encouragement from people” at the Mass and those who had contacted him by email, letter and telephone, the priest said that for church authorities to do anything to him now would be “shooting themselves in the foot.”
He regarded excommunication as a medieval concept and said it “wouldn’t influence me or my life or my faith in any way,” he told NCR.
Those who attended the Mass at a community center in Flannery’s rural home village of Killimordaly in County Galway on Sunday afternoon were local friends, supporters of the priest, members of reform groups such as the Association of Catholics in Ireland and We Are Church Ireland. Some attendees had traveled from overseas to be there.
The strictures imposed on Flannery, which include forbidding him to minister publicly, relate to his liberal views on women priests, the Eucharist and the church’s sexual teachings.
In 2013, through his Redemptorist superiors, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith made it known that he would only be allowed to return to ministry if he signed and published a statement assenting to the church’s teaching that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to the magisterium on issues such as contraception and homosexuality.
Refusing to agree to the doctrinal congregation’s terms, Flannery remains unable to publicly exercise his ministry while a resolution to the impasse looks a long way off.
A marquee outside the community hall on Sunday facilitated the overspill crowds who turned up in solidarity with the cleric on a bright, crisp January afternoon. The Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Willie Cummins from County Clare.
Writing in his blog on Monday, Flannery said he had decided beforehand that the Mass was going to be a celebration, “so I would have no negativity, rancor, complaining or criticizing. And, on the day, I stayed strictly to that.”
In his homily, he only made a passing reference to the Vatican. He began by telling the congregation that what he wanted to say was something simple and that he hoped he could find the words to say it.
Noting the diversity of those who had come to the service, he observed that they were people with very varied views on faith, on God and on the meaning of life itself.
“Fundamental to the Christian message is that every one of us is, in ourselves, a deep and profound mystery, no matter what our beliefs. That is why the Christian message so emphasizes the importance of the dignity of the individual.”
“That profound mystery that is part of every one of us, I would say, is the presence of the divine, the presence of God in every one of us.”
Recalling how in pre-Vatican II rural Ireland, Mass was a matter of priests standing with their backs to the people saying the words in Latin, he said the congregations then were “largely spectators” and that the real event happened on the altar. “The priests communing with God in a foreign language and through their power, as priests, bringing God present into the community — that was the work of the priest.”
Acknowledging he still believed that at the words of consecration Jesus becomes present in the bread and wine, he also stressed that this was not the only presence of Jesus and God among us.
“He or She or whatever pronoun you want to use is just as powerfully present in this gathering, in the whole lot of us and in each of us individually. We have a new understanding of Mass and the Eucharist and it isn’t just the work of the priests — it is the work of the believing community.”
Addressing the crisis around priesthood and the concerns about who will be left to celebrate Mass in 10 or 20 years’ time, he said, “It is time the believing communities once again took possession of the Eucharist. That is how it began after the time of Jesus; the believing communities gathered in their houses and they celebrated the Eucharist. Then as time went on, the centralized power took it over and laid down all sorts of regulations and rules about where it could be and who could say it.”
“That now is breaking down very rapidly and if we are to preserve what is very precious – the Christian message — we need to recover, as communities, the Eucharist for ourselves.”
The congregation gave the priest a standing ovation at the end of his homily, and all were invited to Communion, irrespective of whether they were regular Mass-goers or not, as a statement of love towards one another.
Among those who attended the Mass was Marie Morrissey from Loughrea, who is affiliated with the reform group, the Association of Catholics in Ireland.
She told NCR that the large attendance was an indication of the level of support for Flannery and his objectives.
“I think it conveys a very strong message of support for Fr. Tony Flannery and others who have been silenced, particularly in this country. The church authorities need to address that and try and bring them back into ministry.”
Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh, who along with Flannery, co-founded the Association of Catholic Priests, attended the Mass with another co-founder, Fr. Brendan Hoban.
Speaking to NCR, McDonagh described the Mass as a “great celebration” for Flannery. “He has been five years out of ministry for reasons that he shouldn’t have been; it has been a very difficult journey for him.”
Paying tribute to the people who turned up in solidarity, he added, “Would that some of the leaders of the church would show some of the same concern for people in ministry.”
He was critical of the way the Redemptorist priest’s case was being allowed to drift by the Vatican. “His case has just been left in the halls of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; there is no resolution being brought to it. The church’s processes don’t actually work. We should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves,” he said and suggested that the processes of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith were “much more in line with the church of the 19th century when it was the inquisition.” (Before 1908, the official title of the congregation was the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.)
Referring to the Redemptorist’s efforts to highlight the issue of the role of women in the church, McDonagh commented, “We have had three popes talking about the role of women in the church but they didn’t do anything about it. Pope Francis is the first man who has said he is going to look at the diaconate. The reality is that in the future the church has to have men and women equally recognized. As Galatians says, there is no distinction between male and female.”
Referring to early church writers such as Sts. Jerome and Augustine, he commented, “The church itself has had a horrendous misogynistic history.”
Lining up to greet Flannery at the end of Mass were Shirley Griffin and her son Jack from Athenry, County Galway. She explained to NCR that Flannery had married her and her husband and had baptized her 8-year-old son. The link goes back even further. “I was the first child that Father Tony blessed when he was ordained.”
Asked what she thought the Vatican would make of the liturgy, she responded, “I think if they saw the amount of people here it would inspire them. People have turned up of their own free will and made time out of their normal daily routine to be here.”
“I believe Father Tony’s message is to be Christian to one another and it is about being kind and accepting of people’s uniqueness. I would love for the sanctions to be eased on him because he deserves it. He is a man of the people and he has a gift.”
[Sarah Mac Donald is a freelance journalist based in Dublin.]
Connacht Tribune
Mass gathering helps break silence for rebel priest
By Judy Murphy
January 26, 2017
Because Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery has been forbidden by the Vatican to speak in public, he had to seek a non-church venue for the Mass he celebrated on Sunday to mark his 70th birthday.
“The obvious place was the community hall here [in Killimordaly]. Living so close by, where else would I go?” he mused as he addressed the packed congregation in the hall.
“But it was such a right decision,” he added. “The local community took it up and the sense of support and engagement and affection that I got from this area has been incredible.”
There had also been emails, calls and texts of support from elsewhere “which was lovely. But what happened here was special”, said Fr Flannery of the way friends and neighbours in his home place had rallied round.
Fr Flannery was silenced by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, five years ago.
The reason given by the Vatican’s ‘strong arm’ was that his liberal views on celibacy, women priests and homosexuality were out of line with Church teachings, as were his criticism about how the Church had dealt with cases of child sex abuse.
However, Fr Flannery feels that the real reason for the Vatican’s ire was his involvement in setting up The Irish Association of Catholic Priests. By silencing him, Rome was letting priests know that they were not entitled to a voice.
His decision to celebrate Mass in defiance of the Vatican was to mark the milestone of his 70th birthday, which fell on January 18. It was not to declare war on the Vatican, he said, just to celebrate his 40 years of ministry.
One group of women at Sunday’s event commented on the sadness of the occasion, given that those “with power and pomp” had prevented Fr Flannery from saying Mass for the previous five years.
But Tony Flannery didn’t look sad. In fact, he radiated happiness. This was a celebration.
The Mass featured a reading from the prophet Isaiah, while Matthew’s Gospel spoke of how “the people living in darkness have seen a great light”.
Some in the congregation nodded.
Mostly middle aged and older, and with many from the local area, they didn’t look like revolutionaries.
Respectable people, they were there to support a popular priest, whose message resonates.
Irish Independent

Report by Sarah Mac Donald

Redemptorist priest, Fr Tony Flannery, who defied a Vatican ban imposed on him in 2012 by celebrating his first public mass in five years on Sunday, has said he is “not worried about excommunication” by the Catholic Church.

Speaking to Independent.ie, the priest explained his reason for publicly challenging the Vatican. He said it was linked to two momentous personal events; his seventieth birthday last week and his forty years of priesthood.
The stricture imposed on him as part of his censure, forbade him to minister publicly over his liberal views on women priests, the Eucharist and the Church’s sexual teachings.
He regarded excommunication as a 16th century concept and said it “wouldn’t influence me or my life or my faith in any way”.
Fr Flannery, who is a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, said he didn’t “anticipate” any excommunication under Pope Francis and “even less so in the context of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland next year”.
Over 1,000 people gathered at a community centre in Fr Flannery’s home village of Killimordaly Co Galway on Sunday afternoon.
Referring to the “volume of support and encouragement from people”, the priest said that for Church authorities to do anything to him now would be “shooting themselves in the foot”.
Ahead of the Mass, which had a marquee outside the community hall to facilitate the large crowd of over 1,000 people who turned up in solidarity with the cleric, Fr Flannery said a resolution of the impasse between the Vatican and himself remained a long way off.
The Redemptorist said his problem was not with the Church exercising authority. “Every institution needs an authority structure. But authority must be exercised in a way that is just, and that respects the dignity of the person,” he stressed.
“In my experience, and in the experience of many others whom I have come to know in these past years, Church authority is exercised in a way that is unjust and abusive.”
The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests expressed the hope that his action would highlight the “urgent need for change in the way the Vatican deals with people who express opinions that are considered to be at odds with official Church teaching”.
No member of the bishops or church authorities in Ireland or Rome made any contact with the priest over the Mass.
He told the Irish Independent that “it was very much a one-off event” and that he wasn’t planning to hold another such Mass.
When the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, met Pope Francis in November, he was carrying a 400-word summary for the Pope of Fr Flannery’s plight and that of four other censured Irish priests.
Denying he was “fearful” of a Vatican backlash over his disobedience, Fr Flannery said the liturgy had been “wonderful” and it was a day he would “remember forever”.

Hundreds of people have attended the first mass in five years to be celebrated by a priest banned from public ministry.
Fr Tony Flannery, a Redemptorist priest, was banned from public ministry by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 2012.
This afternoon, he said mass at a community centre in Co Galway. The event was described as a celebration to mark the priest’s recent 70th birthday.
Fr Flannery was suspended from public ministry after he refused to row back on a number of public statements he had made about the priesthood, the role of women in the church, contraception and sexuality.
He has taken issue with the manner in which the decision was communicated to him and with the lack of direct contact he had with the CDF.
In his homily, Fr Flannery said he believed the mass was not just the work of a priest but instead a celebration of the entire community.
Referring to the breakdown of, what he called the “centralised power” of the Catholic Church, he urged those present to take ownership of their faith.
He said he had been overwhelmed at the level of support he had received since he announced he would celebrate a public mass and he expressed his thanks to the local community.
Signs were erected on approach roads to the centre before today’s service. In addition, a marquee was erected beside the building to cater for the hundreds of people who turned up.
The proceedings were relayed on a big screen to the congregation outside the community centre.
Fr Flannery’s homily met with a standing ovation and many of those in attendance expressed hope that the Vatican would engage in a more meaningful manner with the faithful.
Fr Flannery said he was not concerned at the prospect of further censure from the church authorities. He said he felt it was extremely unlikely that the ban on him ministering publicly would be lifted.
Fr Flannery described the threat of excommunication as a medieval construct and not something that perturbed him.

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  1. Brendan Cafferty says:

    Congrats Tony and a great turn out for this celebration.Sorry I could not be there to witness how so many stood along with you in your own place. I am reminded of Rafteri the poet who is buried near Craughwell not so far away from your area when he said ‘S dá mbeinnse ‘mo sheasamh i gceartlár mo dhaoine, D’imeodh an aois díom is bheinn arís óg. Great to see, but I felt a little sad seeing a good man on his 70th birthday,perhaps a little nostalgic saying “what more can they do to me”.This is just not right.

  2. Dairne McHenry says:

    The Eucharist in Killimordaly was a powerful example of the ‘sensus fidei fidelium’4d in action. Believers came from many parts of the country to show their non-acceptance of the unjust treatment of Fr. Tony by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The celebration was a hope-inspiring witness to solidarity, community and Church at their best.

  3. Max Stetter says:

    Thank you Tony. God bless you

  4. DR. HENRY says:

    It is remarkable that Fr. Flannery enjoyed the celebration of Mass. Celebrating Mass is the one thing that the vast number of priests look forward to. As I recall, Pope Benedict XV1 gave the right to every priest in the world to celebrate Mass in Latin if wanted to. Unless a priest is a convicted criminal he ought to follow his conscience on this matter.With the incredible shortage of priests in many countries, we need to bring back all ordained priests. Bishops ought to focus mainly in bringing back all priests who want to continue their priestly ministry, provided the priests are sincere about this matter. Without the celebration of Mass the Catholic church collapses, no matter how much money it possesses.

  5. It looks like community centres may be just as functional as churches.

  6. Kay O'Brien says:

    Happy Birthday Father Tony! You deserve this celebration – and a return to full ministry. The Church needs you and your message!
    Kay O’Brien
    Long Island, New York

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