Editorial, Irish Examiner, 22 august 2015
SOME things never change, at least in the institution of the Catholic Church.
Despite all of the warm, touchy-feely rhetoric about being a listening, inclusive Church, one that values the input of its laity, it remains an autocratic, anti-democratic organisation happy to stifle free speech if its authority or teachings are challenged in even the most gentle way.
Today we report that a priest has been prevented from speaking at a parish event in east Cork by the local bishop William Crean. Killeagh Parish Pastoral Council had invited Redemptorist Tony Flannery to speak in September but, according to Fr Flannery, that invitation was withdrawn after Bishop Crean became aware of the invitation. The crozier was used to good effect to stifle debate, close down a necessary discourse, and bully a community group into accepting an unwelcome diktat from a blinkered hierarchy.
The Killeagh group might, in time, explain why they felt obliged to bend to such pressure, one absolutely unacceptable in civic life, but it is unlikely that Bishop Crean will feel the need to be any more expansive than he has been already.
This is another example of the deeply conservative nature of the Irish Catholic Church, a conservatism at the root of the — again — anti-democratic stonewalling of Government policy on school patronage. The Catholic Church’s influence is at an all-time low in Ireland and this top-down whip-cracking is one of the many reasons for that inevitable loss of respect.
Perhaps these comments should be read in contrast with comments made by Pope Francis speaking with people from Brazil on 25 July 2015 as reported by Vatican Radio;
“When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. It is the only way for individuals, families and societies to grow, the only way for the life of peoples to progress, along with the culture of encounter, a culture in which all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return. Others always have something to give me, if we know how to approach them in a spirit of openness and without prejudice. I call this attitude of openness and availability without prejudice, social humility, and it is this that favours dialogue. Only in this way can understanding grow between cultures and religions, mutual esteem without needless preconceptions, respectful of the rights of everyone. Today, either we stand together with the culture of dialogue and encounter, or we all loose, we all loose; from here we can take the right road that makes the journey fruitful and secure.”
Background to this story is to be found in the article in the same paper by Irish Examiner reporter Stephen Rogers:
Fr Tony Flannery has said the Bishop of Cloyne’s intervention to stop him addressing a parish event in East Cork shows the Church’s claim of wanting to give voice to the laity was “empty and meaningless talk”.
He had been asked two months ago to give a lecture and take part in a question and answer session at Killeagh Parish Pastoral Council’s ‘Spiritfest’ event.
The founder of the Association of Catholic Priests said the invite had been issued to him by the pastoral council and the talk was due to take part in the community hall, “not on church property”.
However, according to Fr Tim Hazelwood, parish priest in Killeagh, a notice in this weekend’s parish newsletter will inform parishioners that “Fr Flannery will not be speaking because he is out of ministry and the bishop has asked that he not speak”.
It is understood Bishop William Crean of Cloyne travelled to the parish earlier this week and met with the pastoral council and said the talk should not go ahead.
Last night Fr Flannery said: “To find that an Irish bishop, and indeed one of the younger recently appointed ones, is pushing the notion of silencing and going to the extreme of not allowing me to give a talk in a community hall, is utterly unacceptable.
“I think it is quite appalling in the era of Pope Francis who is constantly urging people to speak their minds and speak freely to each other, to have an Irish bishop so blatantly preventing someone like me from speaking.”
He said the invite had been issued by a group of lay people at a time when the Church and bishops “have been talking constantly in the last while about the importance of the laity and giving a voice to the laity”.
“This shows up what an empty, meaningless talk that is,” he said. “That the bishop can come, which he did the other evening, and just quote his authority, and say ‘no, you cannot do that’, and they have no comeback to him. The question I would have when lay people see something like this happening is what is the point in any lay person involving themselves in the church when, ultimately, they can be pushed aside like a fly?”
Fr Flannery, who espoused what had been perceived in Rome in the past to be liberal views on contraception, celibacy, and female priests, said the move by the bishop was “very foolish”.
He said he gave more than 20 talks around Ireland last year without fuss.
“I mainly talked about Pope Francis because I am a greater admirer of his. They all went off quietly and it was grand. This would have been the same. Now it has descended into this and that is just utter stupidity on the part of the bishop.”
Last night the bishop said in a statement: “While the Parish Pastoral Council extended this invitation in good faith, I have been obliged to inform the members that — having spoken with Fr Flannery’s superior, the Provincial of the Redemptorist Order in Ireland — I am unable to approve the extension of this invitation at this time.
“The reason being is that Fr Flannery is currently out of ministry and the policy of the Diocese of Cloyne is that a priest who is out of ministry, for whatever reason, cannot exercise a public ministry.”
Patsy McGarry also covered the story in the Irish Times:
A talk to be given by Fr Tony Flannery at a community centre in Cloyne diocese has been cancelled by order of Bishop William Crean.
It’s understood the invitation was issued to Fr Flannery by the parish pastoral council of Killeagh in east Cork and he had agreed to give the opening address at its Spiritfest 2015 over the last weekend in September.
In 2012 Fr Flannery was suspended from public ministry by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Faith (CDF) for his more liberal views on women priests, homosexuality and contraception.
When he became aware of the invitation to Fr Flannery, Bishop Crean made personal representations to the parish priest of Killeagh, Fr Timothy Hazelwood, and to Fr Flannery’s superiors in the Redemptorist congregation.
He followed up with a visit to Killeagh parish this week where he met pastoral council members, after which the invitation to Fr Flannery was withdrawn.
In a statement on Friday afternoon, Bishop Crean said while the parish pastoral council extended the invitation to Fr Flannery in good faith, he had “been obliged to inform the members that, having spoken with Fr Flannery’s superior, the provincial of the Redemptorist Order in Ireland, I am unable to approve the extension of this invitation at this time”.
He added: “The reason being is that Fr Flannery is currently out of ministry and the policy of the diocese of Cloyne is that a priest who is out of ministry, for whatever reason, cannot exercise a public ministry.
“I wish for the diocese to be consistent in its position in order to continue to earn the trust of the faithful.
“Having now discussed the matter with the parish pastoral council, the members have agreed to extend an invitation to another speaker to launch Spiritfest 2015.”
Fr Flannery told The Irish Times he found the actions of Bishop Crean “quite extraordinary……particularly in the age of Pope Francis”.
He felt that “the ease with which the Bishop dismissed the pastoral council and told them what to do” illustrated “how meaningless is all this talk of giving more power to the laity”.
Editorial, Irish Examiner, 22 august 2015