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I felt ashamed of my Church

When I watched Fr Tony Flannery at his press conference in Dublin, a week last Sunday, telling his side of the story I have to admit that I felt a mixture of emotions: sadness; frustration; anger, regret, sympathy. Returning that evening on the train, as I tried to unpack how I felt, these emotions had coalesced into humiliation and shame.
Here was a man who had given his whole life to the Catholic Church. He entered the Redemptorists at 17; ten years later he was ordained; and between then and his 66th birthday he has preached missions all over Ireland, written articles, published books and served the Church to the best of his ability for almost 40 years. Here he was explaining the stand-off in which he found himself with the Vatican authorities.
A year ago a few extracts from his writings were sent to Rome. As a result he was ‘silenced’, asked to carry out a number of religious exercises and to respond to the charges against him. He did all of that and the cardinal in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), William Levada, commented that his declaration of faith was ‘very fine.’ It seemed as if everyone was happy, Flannery’s declaration would be published and that was that.
It looked as if Flannery would be returned to ministry within a matter of weeks. That was June. By September, Levada had retired and a new head of the CDF, Archbishop Gerhard Muller, added a number of other points to the document, specifically a statement that he accepted that the Catholic Chuch could never ordain women and that he declare his acceptance of all Catholic moral teachings.
Leaving aside the reason for the abrupt turn-around, Flannery concluded that, despite the fact that the CDF had threatened that he would be excommunicated and dismissed from the Redemptorists – an extract from the relevant CDF document is on the ACP website – he couldn’t put his name to the content proposed by the CDF without impugning his integrity and conscience. At an absolute minimum it seems a strange way for the Church to do its business.
That’s not to question the role Rome has as a central authority, responsible for the preservation of the faith. But it is to question the way it’s done. If the history of the Inquisition and its successor the Holy Office has taught us anything surely it is that we bring the Catholic Church into disrepute if individuals and their rights are not respected.
Flannery doesn’t know who made the accusations against him. The CDF has never met him and any correspondence he has received from them through a third party had no letter-head and no signature. He was ordered to keep the process secret, not to engage with the media, not to attend meetings of the Association of Irish Priests (ACP) and was threatened that if he didn’t sign the specified document he would be excommunicated.
To say the least it’s hard to justify that approach as an acceptable way of doing business: it’s out of place in a modern society with its resonances of the Inquisition; it’s ineffective; it’s counter-productive; it’s providing ammunition for those who oppose the Church to ridicule us; and it’s shooting ourselves once again in the foot. But most importantly of all, it is impossible to justify from the perspective of the carpenter of Nazareth.
The treatment of Tony Flannery is reminiscent of what happened to theologians in the decades before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). That Council effectively apologised to those theologians and much of their wisdom, communicated through publications that were banned by the Holy Office, was incorporated into the documents.
We believed then that now that the Inquisition was buried in the mists of past centuries and, as now the Holy Office had transmuted itself into the CDF, that ‘heresy-hunting’, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin called it, would be conducted in a way that echoed the respect for the individual at the very heart of that Council.
Have we learned nothing from the past three decades? Is there anyone in Ireland who believes anymore that binding people to secrecy is not just unacceptable but problematic, as Cardinal Seán Brady knows to his cost. Is there anyone who believes that it makes any sense at all to threaten or bully people into a position where they are expected to deny the primacy of their own conscience, a fundamental of our Catholic faith. And surely it does not take any dramatic insight into the future to predict that when the pendulum swings away from its present extremity people like Tony Flannery will be apologised to for the way they have been treated.
At the beginning of this piece I talked about the sense of humiliation and shame I felt returning from the Dublin press conference. What was wrong with our Church, I wondered, that it felt compelled to humiliate this good man by forcing him to publicly stand by his conscience at the price of his reputation, his integrity, his identity, his priesthood, his income and possibly his home?
Which is where my sense of shame comes from. I can say it no other way. There have been times in my life – many times I have to say – when I’ve felt embarrassed, frustrated, angry with my Church. But reflecting on the lonely figure Tony Flannery cast in Buswell’s Hotel on that Sunday afternoon I think for the very first time in my life, I felt ashamed of my Church. How could it all have come to this?
On the ACP website, where this issue is being debated, someone recalled the quotation of Patrick Pearse at the grave of O’Donovon Rossa in 1915: ‘They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half’. It’s what institutions often attempt to do. It never works, of course. And it won’t now. I expect much more from my Church.

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  1. Eugene Sheehan says:

    Recently, I am tempted to give up on this institution that seems to be rotting to and from the core. The injustice of it all – the lack of understanding, compassion, humility – every value taught by Jesus seems to have become tarnished by the evil of unbridled power. Yet, I believe the “Church” is “people” and through people is the presence of God’s Spirit. May His power prevail.

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Thanks, Brendan, for the sort of column we should read in every local and regional newspaper, and in every parish newsletter or website, not just across the 26 Counties but throughout the 26 Dioceses.

  3. maureen saliba says:

    Sir, – The correct way to deal with Fr Tony Flannery would be as follows:
    1. Threaten him with burning at the stake if he fails to recant;
    2. Place him under house arrest for the rest of his natural life.
    It worked a treat with Galileo, and shut him up for the next 400 years.
    Eppur, si muove.
    Then, somewhere around the year 2413, Pope Joan XXIII could offer a public apology, saying it had all been a terrible mistake. That a crowd of eejits had been running things back then.
    Yours, etc,
    Marine Village,
    Co Clare.
    (from IRISH TIMES JANUARY 28, 2013)

  4. Raymond Hickey Bordine says:

    With appreciation to President John F. Kennedy, I borrow words from his Inaugural Address of 1961 about responsibility to office when he asks when executing that office, did we show courage, judgement, integrity, and dedication?
    It is my strong and firm belief that Fr. Flannery, to his credit, can answer in the affirmative to all of those questions.
    What about the RCC, how does it answer? According to the documents and teachings of the most recent council governing that church, this is the church of the People of God. This is OUR church; not THEIR church. Are the hierarchs and other members of the Clergy part of the People of God? Well, they can be when they act in cohesion and union with the Spirit which, according to modern teaching, works with the lay folk climbing to the clerical folk. When the hierarchy is apart from the thinking of the People of God, it is divorced from the Spirit of God.
    The Flannery case is a perfect example of that dysfunction between the hierarchy and the people. A split, a chasm, a breaking point has occurred. The hierarchy has disassociated itself from the People. This began when they did nothing but hide and evade their participation in the sexual abuse of the ‘little ones’ at the hands of their own clerical members. With their bullying and harassment of the victims of that abuse, they disowned their Christian values and made the separation complete, They excommunicated themselves from Jesus, the Christ. The People were left wandering without any Christian guidance or leadership. The current attack by them upon Fr. Flannery is another episode in that pattern of dysfunctional behavior.
    Fr. Flannery has tried to restore some sense of Christ-like thinking to the hierarchy and is attacked and threatened by them for doing so. He is not the only brave soul. I am reminded of the global leader for the victims of Catholic sexual abuse, the Dominican priest Fr. Tom Doyle who for his efforts was removed from his leadership post in Washington, D.C. and sent to a far-off isolated post in Alaska! He was the first to label sexual abuse on the ‘little ones’ by priests as ‘spiritual incest.”
    We need to show some courage in standing up to these bullies of our church who use every means possible to intimidate and harass those who speak out for Jesus and his values.
    There is a long pattern of abuse in the RCC using its power, status, and OUR money to get its way with those it targets under the guise of ‘protecting the true Faith”. What a misnomer that is! Another example of dysfunctional perception in relationship to Jesus, the Christ.
    Well, I don’t know what faith they are talking about, but my faith is in Jesus Christ and his message of love of all people, equality of all people and freedom to think creatively. My leader is NOT a hater, an abuser, a bully, a dictator, an elitist or a chauvinist. Shame on the RCC for distorting the essence of Christianity when it uses its power to bully, intimidate, and suppress those who are courageous enough to speak out, and to believe in the teachings of Jesus. All Christians, whether they be the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy or Catholic leaders call out for an end to all abuse: sexual, intellectual, or spiritual. May God bless all the victims of abuse by the RCC.

  5. I can only assume Fr Brendan, that when the CDF silenced Priests in the past, those Priests simply kept their mouths shut. They obviously have not heard of the song “The west’s awake”. Fr Tony has not only woken up the West, but the rest of the country and further afield as well. Thank you Fr TONY AND FR BRENDAN.

  6. “The treatment of Tony Flannery is reminiscent of what happened to theologians in the decades before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). That Council effectively apologised to those theologians and much of their wisdom, communicated through publications that were banned by the Holy Office, was incorporated into the documents.”
    Remi de Roo, the retired bishop of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and the youngest Canadian bishop participating at Vatican II told a story a few years back that he said “still made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.” It was towards the end of the Council, the bishops were gathered in St. Peter’s awaiting Paul VII to preside at Eucharist. Remi saw that there were about twelve or thirteen co-presiders, all vested in red as they were to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
    It was only as they processed to the altar that the bishops saw who the co-presiders were. Remi told us that each of the co-presiders was a theologian who had “been in deep-shit” in the years prior to the Council, who had been silenced and whose works had been banned. He said he has never forgotten the message of community and solidarity that Paul VI offered them all that morning.
    A much younger Joseph Ratzinger was present, like Remi, at that same council.Obviously that message was not received by Benedict XVI.

  7. The words of the great Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, come to mind:
    “Ever tried, ever failed. Never mind, try again, fail better”
    Faith demands that we stick with it, whatever the difficulties. In Ireland, Fr Tony Flannery is doing just that. He deserves the support not only of the Irish church but also of those beyond the borders of the Irish people. Please be aware that many in the UK are in support of Fr Tony with our words and our prayers.

  8. Thank you, Brendan, another excellent article and spot on as usual.
    If that is John Quinn of San Francisco we are privileged to have you contribute to our site. I have read ” The Reform of the Papacy”. How relevant is that topic tonight.

  9. Wendy Murphy says:

    I no longer call myself a catholic. but I am very moved by what I read here. You are such good people, and Tony seems to represent that goodness. I do hope his present suffering and all of your faithfulness and support will lead to an epiphany. The corrupt established church certainly needs one.

  10. Humiliation?
    “What was wrong with our Church, I wondered, that it felt compelled to humiliate this good man by forcing him to publicly stand by his conscience..”
    What is a conscience worth if we never have to publicly stand by it?
    I get so tired of hints and winks, especially from the ACP.
    May God grant us some clarity and a few more consciences exposed, so that the people can make their choices.

  11. Jane Anderson says:

    Tony Flannery is the most recent case of clergy and religious who have dared to promote thinking beyond the narrow confines of what recent papapcies deem acceptable. There are many who have gone before him. Roy Bourgois, Bill Morris, multitudes of theologians in past decades. And then there are the numerous Vatican II inspired priests who never get a mention in the media but who have been sidelined or ostracised by bullying confreres, fundmentalist lay persons and indifferent bureaucrats who mindlessly implement the Vatican line while failing to recognised that the well rehearsed strategy of top down politics is failing to inspire a contemporary Chrisianity.
    Yet priests like Tony – will Brendan be next? – are not in themselves powerless, for they have a model and mentor in Jesus Christ. While the onus on the papacy to exhibit Christian charity and compassion remains; similarly, it is the task of priests like Tony and Brendan to show Christ-like courage and holy impatience in spreading the Good News of a Church that is waiting in the wings.

  12. JOHN N COLLINS says:

    John Quinn reports the Canadian bishop Remi de Roo as having observed 12-13 concelebrants of Paul VI during Vatican II, each of these prior to the council having been tagged dissident theologians. Would John know of the identity of these or be kind enough to point to a source for the same? They would look good in our Hall of the Famously Infamous.

  13. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh says:

    Thankyou to Fr Brendan Hoban for his heart-rending article about feeling shame for our church, and for the way that the CDF is treating Fr Tony Flannery.
    On reflection, I find very little likeness between the Pope and Jesus. Who do the Pope and CDF think that they are representing anyway?
    Jesus lived in the real world of his time. It seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI and the CDF are very out of touch with the real world. Pope Benedict and the CDF appear as dictators. Jesus was not a dictator. Pope Benedict and the CDF are legalistic. Jesus was a healer.
    Pope Benedict and the CDF refuse to allow dialogue. Jesus allowed dialogue. Pope Benedict and the CDF lack compassion, in my view. Jesus was compassionate and full of mercy.
    Pope Benedict and the Curia, including the CDF, have been complicit in the clergy sexual abuse of innocent children worldwide, with no fear of consequences. Jesus had harsh words for anyone who would take away the innocence of a child.
    Here we have a Pope who was head of the office that dealt with clergy sexual abuse cases for 24 years before becoming Pope. Did he remain silent and allow predators to be protected, so that he might be elected Pope and publish his books as Pope?
    Who does the Pope think he is representing? His actions do not represent Jesus to me. The Pope’s actions to me reflect a small-minded, very ambitious man who pretends humility, while he uses his power to control and even destroy others.
    From all that I have read of Fr Tony Flannery, he is a humble follower of Jesus who wants to live in the truth.
    From all that I have read of Pope Benedict XVI, he fits the words of the British historian Lord Acton who said in 1870 of another Pope, Pius IX, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, when that Pope had the arrogance to declare himself infallible.
    People, please know that this Pope centralized all cases of clergy sexual abuse to be under his authority. That means he was aware of this crime for over 30 years and did nothing to stop it. In one small area of Australia, there have been over 40 suicides of young men who were students at schools taught by the same religious order. How does this Pope face his conscience for his complicity in the sexual abuse and soul-murder and even suicides of so many lives around the world?
    As I see it, the rot starts from the top, from the Popes, for centuries, with a sick culture that has been allowed to develop under the cloak of secrecy.
    I applaud Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Brendan Hoban, and others for having the vision to form the ACPI and the ACI, because of their love for the church and for their desire to address the problems honestly.
    In my view, it is Pope Benedict XVI who needs to be made accountable for all of the harm that he has done to the church over the years. Will he be made accountable? Time will tell.
    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, Illinois, USA

  14. Sandra mc sheaffrey says:

    Yes Brendan, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I was pleased to read the piece mentioning Galileo because I had gone straight to google him after reading Brendan’s article. Here we all are kicking the ball around but seems like the refs are in the clubhouse. I have done a small unscientific survey of women friends and acquaintances. Humanae Vitae? Are you serious, Sandra? So, many of the children of the pre Vatican 2 generation have judged the “ours is not to reason why…” and are not even aware of the current situation because they are tuned into a different channel.

  15. Soline Humbert says:

    The CDF is of course the very same Vatican Congregation which refused to provide any information to the Murphy Commission of investigation into the clerical sexual abuse of children in Ireland (2009).The CDF could claim that it belonged to a foreign, sovereign, state (the Holy See) and that the proper diplomatic channels had not been used….To this date the CDF has refused to acknowledge any responsibility.
    Power and control,not truth,is what motivates its actions.The current nuncio to Ireland was a member of the CDF before coming here.Now the same agenda can be pursued at close quarters with even more vigour. Tony Flannery is doing us all a great service by exposing some of the deviousness,deceit,secrecy which is the culture of the CDF.

  16. Con Carroll says:

    maybe someone should remind the CDF taff to read Jesus An Historical Approximation. author Jose Pagola. Chapter 10. pages, 279, 280, 282

  17. Carol Brady says:

    Thank you Fr Brendan for sharing your thoughts and feelings on our Church at this current time in our history.
    I rarely contribute comments on this site, but when I read your post I felt compelled to offer my twopence halfpenny worth…
    Are we all in need of a little pastoral consolation and healing ?
    Would a National Day of Healing and Reconciliation in our parish communities give us all a much needed kickstart to help us resolve the current impasse?
    I honestly feel we urgently need to move towards a more hopeful vision of a collaborative and Christlike Church.
    Too much suffering turns the heart to stone !
    Blessings and peace to all,
    Carol Brady
    Dublin 15

  18. nicholas lash says:

    The question that needs to be asked in regard to John Paul II’s declaration that: “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” is – what theological note is to be attached to this declaration? Is it, and can it be, any stronger than “theologically certain” (a quaint way of saying that it is not so certain that it cannot be discussed and reconsidered!)? I doubt it because the fact of the matter is that never before, in the history of the Church, has the question been raised (on the very few occasions that it has been raised at all) in the context of an assumed social equality of men and women. It is, therefore, a new question and none of us (John Paul II included) know the answer to a new question until we have considered it. Therefore, in spite of John Paul II’s “definitive tenendam”, it cannot be required of any Catholic that they take the pope’s declaration as the last word on the matter.
    Nicholas Lash

  19. Jerry Slevin says:

    Thank you, Brendan, and of course, thanks as well to Tony. You both have reminded me of the Catholic Spirit my parents in 1930 brought to the USA from Donegal and passed on to their ten children.
    Cardinals have an opportunity now to save the Church and possibly themselves before they are summoned to Rome to rubber-stamp the Vatican clique’s pick for the next pope who may rule for decades.
    Cardinals need now to call for a conference, perhaps to be held in Dublin, to return the Church to the consensual leadership style that Jesus and his first disciples left behind for over 300 years. That was before Constantine and his imperial successors commandeered the Church, leaving behind the coercive hierarchical structure still with as the inquisition of Tony and the ACP shows so sadly.
    The conference, to be effective and accepted, would invite lay and clerical, male and female, Catholics worldwide and have a broad agenda.
    It only takes a third of the Cardinals to block the next pope’s election. This can be done, unless Cardinals want to continue for more decades to assume personally the legal and financial risks of the Vatican’s ruthless and failed current leadership.
    I know as an experienced Harvard trained international lawyer, I personnally would not rely on the Vatican clique’s proven incompetence.

  20. Fergus P Egan says:

    Tony Flannery – and there are many Tony Flannerys, most of which are unsung –has lived his life in the service of the Church. (Lest there be any confusion, when I refer to “Church”, I mean the People of God, the faithful followers of Jesus Christ.) For those who know Tony, this may sound like an under-statement. I know it goes well beyond that.
    For all those who give themselves unselfishly to their families, to their community, to their Church , have you not learned? In matters of virtues – truth, justice, love etc – shortfalls are tolerated and accepted, except for the one overriding unforgivable sin in the eyes of Rome – the sin of disobedience. But for those us who stand by truth, who act justly, who strive to live the Gospel with clean hands and pure heart, is not our experience quite different? I, for one, and I know of many, have suffered injustice and public humiliation at the hands of the Church (i.e. the institutional church); and this was all executed willingly by obedient clergy. Of course, obedience can be a sin or a virtue, but from my experience with the institutional church, the greatest sin is the sin of obedience. Obedience justifies injustice, and it gives a licence for harm, injury and deceit.
    Hooray! for those who see through the false façade of “obedience” and get to the root of the Gospel. Thank you, Tony Flannery! Thank you, all the other Tony Flannerys out there!

  21. Brendan Cafferty says:

    Excellent article by Fr. Hoban – hope they do not go after him next. I find it sad that no Irish Bishop has come out in support of Fr. Flannery, a good priest whose parish retreat I attended a few years ago.It is one that sticks out in my mind as a positive and worthwhile experience. At a time when priests are in such short supply it is making me angry that Fr. Tony can not continue with his ministry and the Irish Hierarchy remain silent -do they all act in unison on those matters ? And considering what the church covered up and that Cardinal Brady was allowed to keep his job after the oath of secrecy thing, it just galls me.I have read reports that he offered his resignation to Rome and it was refused ! Set Tony Flannery free and do what he is good at – serving God and the people.

  22. Anne Walsh says:

    An excellent piece- one which paints a picture of church which is haunting to say the least.
    It is a cause of deep shame to so many of us- many who cannot express or write as well as Brendan can- so from the bottom of my heart I thank him for this article and for articulating what so many of us now feel. Ashamed, hurt, disappointed and disillusioned.

  23. To those who believe that the ACI, ACP and their followers are traitors to our Church, please read Dr Rosemary Eileen Mc Hugh’s post @14 above. Now ask the question, WHO ARE THE REAL TRAITORS OF OUR CHURCH.

  24. John,
    Thank you for your reply. I got a bit overly excited and carried away with myself at the thought that the great Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco, John Quinn, might be engaging with our discourse on this ACP site! Now, that would have been something! What a wonderful story of Pope Paul VI’s great gesture to those formerly regarded as being outside the pale, and thank you for sharing it with us. Paul was basically, I think, a gentle, humble and decent wee man whose philosophy during his pontifcate was that “the faithful have to be convinced, not coerced”. I have always thought that Albino Luciani, had he lived as John Paul I, would have conducted his pontificate in a similar manner to Paul, except, perhaps, he might havr been a bit more radical in his efforts to reform and with a more ready smile. Sadly, I feel few now remember the positive aspects of Paul’s pontificate; most dwell on the catastrophe of not accepting the conclusions of the Commission for the Study of Population, the Family and Birth. Thank you also, John, for your link to your theology.

  25. Michael O Sullivan says:

    In the following quote from Groucho Marx sustitute the word ‘politics’ with ‘CDF’ and the glove fits neatly…” politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.Thank you Fr Brendan for a heartfelt piece.

  26. P Williams says:

    An excellent piece- one which paints a picture of church which is haunting to say the least.
    It is a cause of deep shame to so many of us- many who cannot express or write as well as Brendan can- so from the bottom of my heart I thank him for this article and for articulating what so many of us now feel. Ashamed, hurt, disappointed and disillusioned.
    This is exactly what I would have written but Anne Walsh got there before me.
    Thank you Anne great minds think alike.

  27. For a long time now I have been excusing the institutional church for the manner by which it does or does not appropriately respond to the real issues affecting the People of God and the local churches. The straw that broke the camels back was when the Vatican decreed that the entire Church was to spend time in reparation for the terrible abuses perpetrated against so many children. I was incensed that the Vatican and the Irish Bishops wanted me on my knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament in reparation for the evils and hurts perpetrated and allowed to be perpetrated by clergy members of the Church and either ignored or facilitated by incompetence, stupidity and inertia by those same Bishops. It is my fervent hope that some of our clergy take the stance being taken by some of the Austrian clergy and just run their parishes as they see fit; ie feeding and nourishing those who come to the altar regardless of personal circumstances. The Vatican and Irish bishops will soon find out whose side the People of God are on and from where they receive the Word, the Eucharist and a Christ-like welcome.

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