Personal reflection at the beginning of the New Year

Link to Interview with Tony Flannery on Mid West Radio

Personal reflection at the beginning of the New Year

It is quite a while since I have written anything in my blog. But now we have turned a new year, and even though I will be seventy three in two weeks time, there is still a sense, even if only a small one, of a new beginning.

The last few months of twenty nineteen contained two potentially significant happenings in my life.

First, the house I have been living in for the past eight years, since my “withdrawal from ministry” (to use the official Redemptorist phrase for what took place in my life in 2012) was sold, and now I am based back in my monastery. To be fair, I don’t spend much time there. I don’t find it easy. Living in the location where all the ministerial work is going on has brought me back face to face with the reality of my situation, in a way that living apart made it possible to remain distant from. 

The second happening was very interesting. A small group of people, mainly lay, got together and approached the Redemptorist authorities with a view to initiating a discussion that might lead to some way of breaking through the impasse of my “withdrawal”. One meeting has taken place, with a promise of further discussion later this month. I am extremely grateful to these people for the time and effort they are putting into this, and it remains to be seen where it might lead us.

As we begin the new year, I have a sense that this could be a defining year in my life, though what that might entail is not at all clear to me at the moment. The first five or six years after the “withdrawal” were busy, and in many ways satisfying years. I was very involved in the work for Church Reform; I travelled a lot, and spoke a great deal. I had plenty of energy for what I was doing, and was hopeful that real change would happen. 

I am still hopeful of change, and continue to be impressed by Pope Francis, but I don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for the work of reform that I had. Is that increasing age, or is it a sense of the futility of it all? I am not sure. Seeing the lack of anything really worthwhile happening in the Irish Church is depressing. More and more I am hearing stories of weekend Masses being cut, of parishes being effectively amalgamated, of priests covering numerous churches. So much of this is being decided exclusively by bishops and priests, with often no consultation with the local faithful, and absolutely no effort made to look at alternatives to our outdated and failed form of ministry. It is the clerical church still operating as if nothing had happened, as if there was no Vatican Council and as if Pope Francis had never come with his talk of collaboration and synodality.

In the international Church I see how some people who were closely involved in my “withdrawal” have been shown up to be a lot less white than they presented themselves, and some of them have become more oppositional, even ‘heretical’ (if I can judge by the standards they implied in my case) than I or my censored colleagues in the Irish Church ever were.

I am inclined to believe that if there is to be any change in my situation it will happen this year. If not, then I will have to accept that things will remain as they are for whatever amount of life I have left. I can cope, I think, with not ministering as a priest any more. At my age I wouldn’t be doing much anyway. But living within an institution that acts in such a cavalier and unjust fashion, and is quite happy to sit with that injustice and do nothing about it, will be the difficult part.

A friend of mine texts me regularly, and always ends the text with “sending you light”. I will be glad of whatever light there is, and that the Divine Spirit, which I do believe is within me and in all of creation, will be the guiding light of this year, not just for myself, but for those I care for, and for all of you who read this blog.

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  1. Joseph Poole says:

    thank you for your honesty. Your honesty is what gives hope, so, I would encourage you to keep writing, as I love to be inspired by your honesty. Your experience is so rich, the quality of your intelligence will help the Church we love to take it to the next level; and God will take care of us in that process. Even the worst of experiences can be the foundations of a better future. Joe Poole CSSp

  2. Seamus Ahearne says:

    “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (Any variation will do). Henry II and Beckett 1170.

    Tony’s piece is poignant and weary. Might the Nuncio/the Irish Hierarchy/ the CDF/Francis/the Redemptorists realise by now that it is time to rid the local Church in Ireland (our Community of love, faith and hope) of this abscess on the Church body? It is so embarrassing. How can a Community, who claim Christ as its leader, allow this nonsense continue?

    If ‘calling’ Tony back into ministry isn’t done for the obvious and correct reason; might it not be done, simply to rid us of the bother and trouble that the treatment of Tony Flannery attracts?

    Seamus Ahearne osa

  3. Chris McDonnell says:

    I concluded my regular article in the Catholic Times this week with these few words.

    ‘Hope, purpose and promise should permeate the lives of Christian peoples. Our hope is sustained in our faith, our purpose defined by our baptism as we live out the promise of the Incarnation of God in the Christ-Child, taken one step at a time. As we begin a New Year so may we see the removal of the many walls, both real and figurative, that still divide us.’

    Let’s hope that the walls that have for so long excluded Tony and others from active ministry are finally taken down sometime soon.

  4. Donal Dorr says:

    Thanks, Tony, for this honest, refreshing, and ultimately hopeful message. Know that you are not forgotten.

  5. Eugene Sheehan says:

    Tony, I join with your friend(s) in “sending you light”. I empathise with your frustration and discouragement – the injustice of it all! So many things are not in our control but your witness is a powerful influence on all of us who believe that “a change is gonna come!” It simply has to, there’s an inevitability about it all.
    Take heart that your greatest witness is not from anything you may do but from who you are and the integrity of your humanity. May God bless and keep you always strong in your perseverance.

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    Looks like if you get wrongfooted by our strange and mystifying clerical system you can never be extricated, restored, and put back on your feet. Alleged thought-crime and the tyranny of gossip seems sufficient to generate such Kafkaesque situations as Tony records. Behind it all lies some bureaucrat’s cut-and-dried idea of theological orthodoxy, applied without discussion or transparency. I’ve just been reading a Spanish Jesuit, writing in 1999, Bernardino Llorca, who lauds the Inquisition for its success in purging Spain of Protestantism and of the plague of witchcraft. Conservative churchmen who are so hypersensitive to any suspicion of unorthodoxy among liberals are utterly unable to look critically on their own past performances, which has blemished the Gospel more than any liberals did.

  7. Ned Quinn says:

    Shortly after Tony was “silenced”, a number of people staged a protest demonstration outside the home of the Papal Nuncio. There was no meeting with or response from the then incumbent Mgr. Charles Brown. I believe he is now in Albania. Maybe the new Nuncio would be more amenable.

    1. Tim Hazelwood says:

      In response to Joe O Leary who is disappointed with the ACP response to the George Pell case.
      Firstly, Joe, the ACP continues to respond to appeals for help from priests who have been accused or who have been stepped down from ministry. They come from all positions in the church, curates, parish priests, retired men, some canons, monsignors, men who held the position of vicar in a diocese and those who held leadership positions in religious orders. They come from all over Ireland and we now find that we are getting requests for help from other countries, because no group like the ACP exists in their jurisdiction and they have heard of our willingness to offer genuine help. Many of these men are not members of the Association and we never ask. I suspect that many do not share our outlook on the Church. But we don’t ask. All we do is offer a listening ear, support, advice and when we can point them in the right direction.
      We find quite often it is not with the civil authorities that these man have difficulties. It is Church authorities who treat them unjustly. The situations vary often depending on the diocese of religious order, some are more just and Christian than others. Some men are out of ministry for a long time and have very little chance of ever getting back even though there may been no civil or canonical case taken. Even the right to a proper Christian funeral is denied them.
      They are the ‘forgotten’ who have no famous barristers to defend or write letters about them.
      Your post also poses a very probing question, Who are the ACP and how is policy set. Policy and issues that we raise are decided by the members, discussed at the AGM and are then acted on. You are free Joe to suggest and put to the AGM if you so wish on any topic.
      Finally, Joe, to inform you that I and others in the ACP have been to the prisons to visit men who have served time.

  8. Frances Burke says:

    Good to see that one Italian Bishop has shown leadership and courage by being the first to report sexual abuse to civil authorities. The article states that ‘Clergy are not mandated to report child sex abuse in Italy’. The diocese press release noted that Bishop Nardini ‘on his own’ brought the case to the civil authorities.

    Reporting by clergy still remains difficult especially when your own organisation publicly distances you. It takes great courage to be the first one to do it in your native country, a country which is also home to the Vatican.

    I think this is the start of uncovering the scale of abuse in Italy over the years.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thanks to Tim Hazelwood for his response.

    The prosecution in the forthcoming High Court appeal have stated their argument: the story can be accessed via Facebook here:

    ‘Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd said Pell’s legal team had focused on the Court of Appeal majority’s “belief” in the victim. “(Pell’s legal team) disregards an important aspect of the majority’s assessment of (the victim’s) credibility and reliability: that ­undisputed facts regarding the applicant’s use of the priests’ sacristy (at St Patrick’s Cathedral) and the layout of the priests’ sacristy provided independent support for (the victim’s) account,” Ms Judd said….

    ‘Ms Judd said the majority “reviewed the whole of the evidence” and assessed the victim’s credibility and reliability in several contexts, including consistencies and inconsistencies between his account and other evidence…

    ‘Ms Judd said Pell’s submission “ignores” and “glosses over evidence supportive” of the victim’s account such as his description of the priests’ sacristy where the abuse occurred.

    ‘She said the classification of evidence from church figures as “alibi evidence” also overstates their evidence.

    ‘Ms Judd said the direct evidence of master of ceremonies Charles Portelli about Pell’s ­location on the two occasions in question consisted of Mr Portelli “responding affirmatively to a ­series of leading questions”.

    ‘“He was unable to recall where he went immediately after each mass and had no independent recall of whether he and the applicant had any events after each mass,” she said.

    ‘Another point raised by Pell’s defence was the nature of the ceremonial robes he would have been wearing as archbishop when the assault occurred.

    ‘“No reference is made to the fact that … it was plainly possible for a person wearing the robes and assorted vestments to expose his penis,” Ms Judd said.

    ‘“The robes were an exhibit at the trial and were available to the jury in the jury room during their deliberation.”

    ‘Ms Judd said the dissenting Court of Appeal judge Mark Weinberg “did not sufficiently ­acknowledge the jury’s role as the primary tribunal of fact”. “It is fundamental to our system of criminal justice that the jury is the constitutional tribunal for deciding issues of fact. The role of the jury as representative of the community in a jury trial is of abiding importance … The jury also has epistemic ­advantages as the primary fact-finder.”

    ‘Ms Judd said juries had “worldly wisdom” that cannot be assumed to be shared by appellate judges and were best placed to ­decide matters of credibility and reliability. “In light of the above considerations, the setting aside of a jury’s verdict is a serious step, not to be taken without particular regard to the advantage enjoyed by the jury over a court of appeal,” she said.

    ‘Pell’s legal team needs to file a reply to the prosecution submissions by February 26.’

    The Australian hopes the appeal will lead to “jury fairness”. (unfortunately for subscribers only)

    Problems with trial by jury are much discussed:

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    If jury credibility is undermined we face an “appalling vista”.

  11. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #13 And far from ever attempting to distinguish Catholicism from clericalism – a favourite theme of Pope Francis – our Irish Conference of Bishops has yet to allude to it as a major issue – especially when it comes to child safeguarding in the church.

    And when Tony Flannery tried to raise the issue of the obvious historical evolution of the Catholic priesthood – in the wake especially of Jesus’s warnings against ‘lording it over’ others – he and others were vilifed in 2012, effectively as scapegoats for the corruption of clergy by ‘secularism’ – to double down on Pope Benedict’s totally mistaken (and self-serving) 2010 analysis of what had ‘gone wrong’ in Ireland.

    The complete compliance of our Irish Catholic hierarchy – without exception – in this travesty, and their silence on clericalism, even after seven years of a very different papacy, is a continuing support for the very phenomenon that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin complained about in his Wurzburg address of 2017 – the shallow ‘conformism’ that left Ireland so short of ‘keen intellects and prolific pens’.

    When did he, or any other Irish bishop, ever critique the witch-hunting of ‘dissent’ that was the very cause of that conformism, the Dracula that poised the pen of delation over every budding ‘keen intellect’? If ever there was a year when that needed doing it was 2012, but clericalist conformism held then, and still holds, the Irish church in a vice, from the top down.

    If that were not so, we already here in Ireland would freely be discussing the four main themes of the German church’s ongoing ‘synodal way’: power and separation of powers in the Church; partnership and sexuality; the priestly existence; the role of women in our Church.

    Remembering that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s visit to Wurzburg in 2017 was to celebrate an Irish missionary to Germany, St Kilian, must we pray for return German missionaries to Ireland to teach us that courage and wisdom are gifts of the Holy Spirit, while Irish ‘safe hands’ are leading us to oblivion?

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    When did any bishop criticize the witch-hunting of dissent? Good question.

    Pope Francis is not above doing a bit of witch-hunting himself. If this were the year 1600, Judith Butler would be burnt as a witch in the Campo di Fiori:

    “Father Epicoco also noted how often Pope Francis speaks of evil, and he asked Pope Francis where he sees evil at work today.

    “”One place is ‘gender theory,'” the pope said. “Right away I want to clarify that I am not referring to people with a homosexual orientation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church invites us to accompany them and provide pastoral care to these brothers and sisters of ours.”

    “Gender theory, he said, has a “dangerous” cultural aim of erasing all distinctions between men and women, male and female, which would “destroy at its roots” God’s most basic plan for human beings: “diversity, distinction. It would make everything homogenous, neutral. It is an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women.”

    “Pope Francis said he did not want “to discriminate against anyone”, but was convinced that human peace and well-being had to be based on the reality that God created people with differences and that accepting – not ignoring – those differences is what brings people together.”

  13. Paddy Ferry says:

    In reading Gerry O’Hanlons excellent book, “The Quiet Revolution of Pope Francis”, one of the things that really struck me was Gerry’s observation in chap.2, “Background to the Crisis: a Post-Catholic Ireland?” that the Catholic Church in Ireland had been not just un-intellectual but anti-intellectual. “However, its un-and even anti-intellectual nature meant that it was ill-prepared for the challenges posed by a late-emerging modernity in Ireland”. Why was that the case?

    When I studied at Belfield there were priest lecturers and priest professors everywhere, or at least in the places I found myself. In 1971 UCD introduced the teaching of Social and Behavioural Sciences for that year’s Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental intake. I think I am correct in saying that it was the first university in these islands to do that and it meant we were a truly privileged bunch. So, we studied Sociology and Anthropology, Social Medicine, Psychology and Psychiatry. Two of the professors in Social Science were priests and likewise in the Psychology Faculty and there were also priest lecturers. Over in the science block, which was our main area of activity, there were certainly priest lecturers in the Physics and Biology departments and perhaps elsewhere as well.

    So many of our secondary schools were run by religious orders. I would expect there were Theology departments in all our universities.

    But, our church was definitely –perhaps still is — anti-intellectual.
    In the last year, in chatting with an old friend, a former teacher and devout catholic, I was truly shocked when he said to me he could not be bothered listening to all these theologians and scholars. Faith should be simple, he said and so much of it is a mystery. End of !!

    I wonder does the reason for Gerry’s observation perhaps lie in the fact that Donagh O’Malley’s famous stroke of his ministerial pen –to quote Kevin Hegarty — came far too late for us? Is it now too late?

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