Sean Fagan — a friend speaks out

Among the comments on the posting ‘A Tuam priest reacts to the treatment of Tony Flannery’, Joan Molloy writes that she is deeply troubled by the Vatican threat to Fr. Sean Fagan, and wonders if it can possibly be true?  Yes Joan, sadly it is true.  The silencing of Sean, after a lifetime of service to the Church, was even more painful because if any word of this action demanded by the CDF got into the media, he would be immediately be prohibited from exercising his priestly faculties.
Sean, whom I am privileged to call my friend, loves our Catholic Church.  In his own words: “I am passionately in love with the Church which brings me so much of the endless compassion of Christ; the kind strong gentleness of Mary the Mother of Jesus; the consolation of God himself to help us through the many dark nights of the soul.”  ‘Does Morality Change? (2003; 230-231).
Yes, this a difficult time for the Church.  But let us not lose hope and listen to each other.  There are many who hold opposing views.  With goodwill and deep faith we can transcend our differences and become an inclusive Catholic Christian Community.  The Holy Spirit is shouting at us.
Mary Cunningham

Similar Posts


  1. seán eile says:

    I find this news about Seán Fagan simply unbelievable. Words fail me! I sincerely wish Seán peace … the peace from yesterday’s gospel … and admire his tremendous integrity. I hope somebody has the courage to question this type of process.

  2. The silencing of Seán Fagan with a super gag order is disgusting.
    Unfortunately this whole process is likely to end in tears and the wrecking of the lives of good people.

  3. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Mary agus Seán Eile, seven deadly questions are bothering me in the wake (sic) of the silencing of Sean Fagan SM and Tony Flannery CSSR:
    1. What’s the going rate among Rome-based canon lawyers for (a) a gagging order on a dissident, (b) a super(natural) injunction forbidding (under pain of what penalty?) any whisper of said gagging order?
    2. Where do these injunction lawyers retire to when they’ve made their fortune, or are they paid in indulgences?
    3. How much did it cost the Marist Order to buy up every copy of Sean’s “What Happened to Sin?”
    4. Couldn’t the Marists have found some other worthy cause to spend this sum on?
    5. Did they have their Savonarola-style book bonfire in the back garden or in the public square? (My apologies to all Dominicans.)
    6. Is it time to copy the old Soviet dissidents’ practice of samizdat theology, passed furtively from hand to hidden hand?
    7. Will the scriptoria of Armagh and Clonmacnois be able to cope with the output of illuminated samizdat, and are they sufficiently Rome-free?

  4. Anne Jordan says:

    Well after reading the questions raised by Joan Molloy on your site about Fr Sean Fagan and the threats made by the Curia to him I went and bought the Sunday Times. I just had to read it for myself.
    And now I simply cannot find words strong enough to express my anger and disbelief that anyone walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ would behave in such a way.
    Shame, shame, shame on you, who in the name of my church, behave in such immoral ways.
    I can only hope and pray today, that some journalist will have the courage of Mary Raftery and expose this abuse – as no doubt there are more priests treated as Fr Sean was – and if we have learned anything about the church, it is that, it will only act with integrity when it is forced to do so, by people it cannot silence.

  5. catherine muldowney says:

    I am deeply saddened by the silencing of certain Catholic priests in Ireland and elsewhere. It echoes the last Pope’s silencing of all the well-known theologians, of the time, Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff Schillebeex etc. What else are we to expect from the DCF office, formerly known as the Office of the Holy Inquisition? What did they do to Galileo but silence that great scientist and astronomer?

  6. Paddy Ferry says:

    I am absolutely shocked. And I agree completely with Seán eile, Pól, Eddie, Anne and Catherine above. I would also like to sincerely wish Seán Fegan peace. I have just, last week, finished reading “What happened to sin”. You can still get it, Eddie. My copy was a present from a priest friend. I am not in the habit of reading moral theology but this is, of course, a marvellous read. I so regret that I hadn’t read it years ago. A few years ago I read Fr. Seán’s essay
    “Spiritual Abuse”. If only I read that 30 years ago!

  7. Sheila McHugh says:

    I concur with everything that has been said above.
    If there is a good human rights lawyer who has read what appeared in yesterday’s Sunday Times, then I suggest that the case of Sean Fagan be taken up by them as a gross abuse of civil and human rights.
    Try ordering any of Sean’s books on Amazon and you will find that they are not available for shipping in this juristiction. Open borders do not operate when you have closed minds……..
    Sean, ‘I carry you in my prayers’.

  8. Fintan Sheerin says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Sean some years ago at the launch of a book in Milltown. I spoke to him on a number of occasions. I have always been impressed by his unfailing drive for justice and right. He spoke out when others would not; he said what others would not. And these things, even when it was to expose injustices the Church he loves. I am appalled by the Vatican decision but even more so by his congregation’s abandonment of one of their own…this is what Christian community and fraternity has been reduced to. So sad. But, as another respondent has said, we will not be disheartened. Even if the some in the hierarchical Church lose their way and divert from Jesus’ message of love, we must remain true.

  9. Damien O'Dwyer says:

    Independent thought is alive and well. Those of us who are the Church need to take a stand in support of Priests who similarly have independence of thought – we don’t necessarily need to agree with their thoughts, but the principle of having the right to express indpendent thought, for the greater good, should be a core value for any Christian society.
    The stifling of independent thought is unhealthy, dangerous and symptomatic of the malaise the Irish (and beyond) Catholic Church finds itself in.
    As a member of the Church, who struggles daily to find a reason to stay, the current actions by Rome against good men of faith and the attack on the right to express independent thought perplexes, disgusts and angers me.
    Stay strong and don’t give up and that will be reason for some of us to do the same.

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    Let’s hope the next pope will have the guts to declare that the Inquisition was a bad idea (in 2000 Card. Ratzinger gutted any critical purification of memory on that point, speaking instead of violence committed by some Catholics in their zeal for Truth).

  11. Michael Commane says:

    It is reported in today’s Irish Times that Fr Sean Fagan has been advised by Rome that if any word of their latest action against him reached the media he would be stripped of his priesthood.
    If this is true, should it not be a matter for the European Court of Human Rights?

  12. The Vatican is showing itself to be nothing other than a political organisation: its history of violence and torture is well documented. Church historians are well versed in this type of bullying from the doors of “Christianity”. We are now witness to the 21st-century version of Inquisition, and the “heretics” are being silenced. Shame on The Vatican – appalling!!! Believers in Christ should turn their back on this fascist organisation.

  13. Marie Gallagher says:

    Pope Benedict has made much of the dangers of moral relativism and deplores its effect on society. I agree. He sees nothing wrong with letting abusers run amok for decades, yet crushes those who would even speak of women’s role in the church. You don’t need to be a moral theologian to see that right and wrong have been hopelessly compromised.

  14. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish says:

    When will the Vatican realize that silenceing people or trying to is just not the way to go? No doubt they are paying for PR firms. I can’t believe this is the kind of action they are recommending.
    Bullying simply will not work when the people in the pews or when priests like those in Ireland begin standing up and speaking out as a group. Unfortunately this kind of reaction by organized priests’ groups is few and far between in dioceses in the United States.
    People are walking away from the institutional church in droves all around the world will not acknowledge it.
    Only those who fear the loss of their power who threaten like the Vatican has threatened theses two priests – Tony Flannery and Sean Fagan.
    My prayers are with you,
    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish SNDdeN
    New Castle, Delaware & Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA
    Advocate for Victims & Legislative Reform

  15. Like many young people I never attended mass for years,why?Because of the awful priests who used Vatican II as an excuse for saying absolutely nothing of value.Christ calls us to be responsible,we are our brother’s keeper.And Ireland is full of Priests who failed to do that duty.Why don’t my fellow young people go to mass?Why would they?When did any priest ever tell them it was a mortal sin not to?From turncoat priests talking of women ordinations in newspapers to priests wanting a wife,I say good riddance to bad company. I am speaking here of love for the Church and my country.There are hundreds of thousands of broken homes and teen parents cos you people lived with the times rather than the truth.God bless Pope Benedict,God forgive the ACP…from a young Catholic.

  16. Eddie Finnegan says:

    For context on the silencing of Frs Sean Fagan, Tony Flannery and others, see Patsy McGarry’s Opinion & Analysis piece in today’s (Wed, April 18, 2012)Irish Times: “Pope has consistently come down on dissent within the church like a hammer”.
    I see Martin Henry of Maynooth’s Dogmatic Theology dept is reduced to calling Churchill in aid in today’s Letters column: “To echo Churchill, Rome rule is probably the worst form of governance for the Catholic Church, until you’ve tried all the others.” How Martin’s ‘Rome Rule’ echoes Churchill’s ‘Democracy’ is perhaps something only Martin can explicate, but I thought I should re-quote it just to save Seminarians 1, 2 or 3 the bother.
    However, for a real inkling into how we got to where we are today, the most starkly factual and most prophetic, in both senses,is from Sean himself, aided by Wilfrid Harrington who in our Maynooth days of the early ’60s was young and vibrant and full of hope and promise, still happily and vibrantly of this ACP parish, having done for Scripture what his fellow Dominican, Yves Congar, did for Tradition. The quote is from the article, “Spiritual Abuse”, referred to by Paddy Ferry (No.6 above), from the section ‘The Inquisition lives on’:
    “Over thirty years ago world-renowned scripture scholar Wilfrid Harrington OP, author of 47 books, wrote about scribalism in the church. He noted that Jesus in the gospels spoke clearly and unambiguously about the conduct he expected of his followers, but the clearer his words the more certainly have Christians through the centuries done exactly the opposite. . . . . . In the full assembly of the Second Vatican Council Cardinal Frings said that this department” (Inquisition/Holy Office/CDF) “of the pope’s civil service was a scandal for all Christendom.” (I wonder if Frings’ intervention was drafted by his peritus? ef) ” . . . . . During the Council there was a call for a reform of the CDF, but nothing happened, since it continues to operate today in a culture of secrecy and encourages the faithful to spy on fellow members of the church and to denounce them to the local bishop or to Rome. Its procedures have little in common with the openness and fairness of internationally accepted standards. Theologians can still be denounced anonymously to Rome and silenced without a proper hearing. There is a long list of theologians who fell foul of the CDF and were harshly treated. Many of them suffered serious illness as a result of their treatment.”
    Well, that’s the boat Sean has been in for the past couple of years. Mary Cunningham’s post ends in Christian hope for an inclusive church: “The Holy Spirit is shouting at us,” she says. But I heard that that Third Party too has been taken hostage, languishing in a cell beneath Castel San Angelo.
    Sean Fagan’s paper, “Spiritual Abuse”, appears as Chapter 5 in the 2005 festschrift to honour Sean: “Quench Not the Spirit: theology and prophecy for the church in the modern world’ (Columba Press). Wilfrid Harrington’s “Scribalism in the Church” is also one of the book’s fourteen chapters.
    see http://www.catholicireland.net/pages/index.php?nd=196&art=613

  17. Fintan Sheerin says:

    About 30 years ago, I left the Spiritan novitiate after 2 years but those years left me with an immense love of: 1) the Church as the people of God; 2) of liturgy as a communing of those people and; 3) of community as a reality where the central message of Jesus is lived. As I near my 50s, I have constantly been faced with facts that, despite apostolic succession and tradition (and all that entails), each of those three things which I came to value and love have been repeatedly battered by the Vatican and its magisterium.
    1) Their recent actions in attempting to bring what they consider to be ‘errant priests’ into line for positing alternatives perspectives on matters, not associated with central Church teaching or tenets of faith, has highlighted the fact that, whatever about ordained ministers and religious, the laity (the large part of the People of God) are seen by the Vatican to be inconsequential. We are sheep who, under Canon Law have a responsibility and duty to follow our pastors who, presumably have to follow their bishops and superiors…all of this without questions or, it appears, comments! It is an interesting thought that, whereas the Vatican can silence ordained ministers and religious through threats and bullying, they cannot normally do that to lay people; indeed they do not bother to even listen to us! Why would they if we are expected to be just mindless followers. With an increasingly well educated and questioning laity, this will not wash anymore.
    2) Some years ago, I joined my Spiritan confreres, as a Spiritan Associate, in the celebration of the Eucharist. I was the only lay person there and realised what I saw as a divisiveness of the liturgy as I was the only respondent at some stages. Many priests have tried to include laity in the liturgy but I have long contended that a divisive liturgy is a divisive liturgy no matter what window-dressing we do! Now we are faced with an even more divisive liturgy which returns us to rote responses of often meaningless phrases as we sit sheepishly in our pews.
    3) When all else fails, I look to Jesus’ life and his message and, in particular, to his early Community which had not, by then, become embellished with the trappings of formal religion. At the very least, I would have hoped, the values that were inherent to that early community should be evident in the Church – caritas (love and charity), brother and sister hood, sharing, respect coming together in the breaking of the bread. I see these values locally in parish communities where priests and lay people come together. More and more, though, I see other values being demonstrated in the actions of the Vatican. Thus, lay people are ignored and devalued; religious communities are forced to disown their brothers/sisters; aging priests who have committed so much to the Church as people of God are sent into mental and spiritual turmoil; divisions are entrenched.
    Despite all of this, I know that the Church is alive and vibrant. I know that it still embodies the true values of Jesus. Sadly for someone like myself though, this Church is being pushed further and further away from the Roman Catholic Church which I grew up in an loved.

  18. Chris (England) says:

    Like many others, I am saddened and disgusted by the actions of Rome in all of this. Apart from the grossly unfair treatment of individuals who have given their lives to trying to make the Gospel relevant and understandable to the people of today, these outmoded control mechanisms are serving to drive people away in droves. Yet, where are our Bishops in all of this? Are they all mere “Yes men”? If they had the courage to stand together as a group and challenge Benedict and his minions, would he excommunicate them all and risk the remergence of an independent Celtic Church and even if he did so would this be such a bad development?

  19. Therese Tynan says:

    Who are the members of the Curia who have so much power. Why does an organization such as this even exist?
    At a time when we demand transparency from government, why do we have no transparency from Rome?
    I believe our church is now in the same chaotic state as the Jewish
    church was when Jesus came to earth.
    If Christianity is about Truth, Beauty and Love, are these in any way reflected in the Catholic Church as it functions right now?
    May the Holy Spirit guide us always.

  20. Very special thanks to the Association of Catholic Priests. We have been following your work on Catholics 4Change (currently immersed in the Philadelphia quagmire of abuse) and wish you every blessing!

  21. Kathleen Faley says:

    I have both Does Morality Change by Sean Fagan and Quench not the Spirit which contains Fr. Wilfrid Harrington’s Essay on Spiritual Abuse as part of an ever increasing library of theoogy books. I will now re-read those two books again to refresh my memory on their theological thinking. These priests are prophets for our times but it will be many years before they will be recognised as such. That does not make them wrong now.

  22. clare tolan says:

    I am so disappointed by the actions of the Church-but not surprised-30 odd years ago I can remember a school novena where fr tony spoke-was inspiring to teenagers and can remember him to this day-he asked us what bothered us about religion and spoke to us -hope he never loses that enthusiasm-wish him all the best he is genuine-

  23. I am very sad by the action of Rome…I wish Fr Sean Fagan every blessing, Ita

  24. Barbara Verner says:

    Dear Sean,
    You were a dear friend to Rosalind Verner my mother-in-law. I remember you as an utterly truthful and brave man. That’s why Rosalind loved your company and we enjoyed your presence also. As we say goodbye to Rosalind in her final hours I know her love and respect for you will always remain as will her son Patrick and I her daughter-in-law Barbara. Keep your courage and your passion and love of the truth.

  25. Rory O'Connor says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    I am really horrified at the idea of “silencing” priests . The right to express an idea is fundamental to human freedom , human health and human thought. What is the Vatican afraid of ?. The truth ?.
    As far as I can ascertain , the only people who have no faith in the Lord are the hierarchy /clergy/Vatican officials. Did not Jesus say that he would send us an “advocate ” who would teach us the truth. This “advocate” is the “spirit of truth ” who speaks to the community which is the church. (The church is not the “magesterium ” or any other select body of men. The spirit will speak where it wills. So faith in the Lord is what is important .(Not in a self appointed organisation like the vatican /curia/magesterium etc).We must all remember this.
    There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of preventing ideas which are non threatening ,but respectful, being aired.
    The Vatican is behaving like a cult organisation. Nobody must question, challenge , criticize, oppose the great “leader”. Anybody who does is a “traitor”. You are either “with us or against us”. Sounds familiar ?. There are all qualities of a “cult”. They have nothing to do with the simple carpenter, who walked this earth two millenia ago.
    Lets hope that the new “inquisition ” is opposed by humanity today , and not allowed to repeat the great damage the first inquisition did to civilization in the centuries past.
    Rory O’ Connor.
    Does anybody know where I can purchase copies of Sean Fagan’s banned books. They are more attractive now to me to buy since they are banned!!!.

  26. Noel Kavanagh says:

    I’m shocked by the treatment in silencing Fr’s Sean Fagan and Tony Fannery and other priests and people by the Vatican, because of their thoughts and writings about our faith to the lay people to give a better understanding of our belief. As for myself I am in a very unsure and doubtful place. Only now in my 70 + years have I realized how totally misled and misinformed I was by the church in my earlier years, which now has a huge effect on my life. I no longer believe in the institutional church but try to stick to simple prayer, to attending mass and to be guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.