Tony Flannery: An article in my defense, written by Augustinian Theologian, Gabriel Daly

I am in the course of re-locating out of the house where I have lived for the past seven years, and going through all my ‘stuff’, and I came across this article written by Gabriel Daly some time after I was withdrawn from ministry, and when Francis had become Pope.  Re-reading it, I felt again a deep sense of gratitude to Gabriel for coming out so strongly in my defense. I also noted, and it must be five years since he wrote it, that he stated that the Redemptorists could restore me to ministry without reference to the CDF — something I recently asked them to do, but they were unwilling to.

I publish the article here in my blog. It has lost none of its power in the five years:


I believe that the attack on Tony Flannery and five other Irish Catholic priests was inspired by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith seeking to impose an antiquated pre-Vatican II theology on the entire church.

I further believe that, inspired by the leadership of Pope Francis, it is a duty to resist what is happening in the institutional church today. I believe that the tactics adopted by the CDF are unjust, prejudiced, sometimes cruel and, as such, plainly unChristian.

      I know that I sound indulgently hostile to the CDF, but I believe that we have arrived at a point where we can no longer deal rationally and peacefully with the Congregation. It is badly in need of radical reform, but it has the sort of power that has put it beyond reform.

   Tony Flannery, among others, is a victim of its ineptitude and its lack of conscience. It would, in my judgment, be wrong to appear to ask them for mercy or forgiveness for Tony.  He is in no need of either. They owe him an apology for treating him so unjustly. It would, of course, be fanciful to expect that the CDF would ever apologize!

       I genuinely believe that opposition to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may have become a serious moral obligation. I realise that this belief runs contrary to the traditional authority of the Roman Curia and that standing up to the CDF would mean an institutional risk for a religious superior. I would therefore understand how a superior might, on balance, see the refusal to protest as the lesser of two evils. I could be wrong, but during the present pontificate I doubt that the CDF, under Pope Francis, would be allowed to take action against any superior who defended a confrere from an unjust charge.

Tony Flannery’s case seems to me to be an apposite instance of where the CDF behaved particularly badly (I mean immorally in the fullest sense of the word).

Cardinal Levada’s remarks are simply unacceptable. (Levada, as the then Prefect of the CDF, presided over the prosecution of Fr. Flannery).  These are his words:

“He (Father Flannery) wrote two articles in Reality magazine in which he questioned, undermined, the teaching of the Church on the Eucharist and on the priesthood. If you hold these positions you are formally in heresy (in the Catholic Church).”

This is arrant nonsense.  For one thing, the work ‘heresy’ should never be used as thoughtlessly as this; for another, it displays an outmoded theological view of the Eucharist and priesthood. Cardinal Levada’s strong suit is clearly not modern post-Vatican II theology!  He says:

“Priests, religious and theologians – people who have been given a charge, people who have been given the work of speaking with the authority of the church behind them – cannot simply come out and say ‘I cannot accept this’ or ‘I don’t like this’. They have a responsibility, otherwise they use their role to produce confusion, and people may hear them preaching from the pulpit or read what they write about something that’s contrary to the Faith”.

He quite serenely assumes that his views are ‘the teaching of the Church’, whereas he should say that his theological ideas are purely personal, though shared to some extent with those of the traditional party in the church.

In the course of his article in Reality Father Flannery writes: “whatever Jesus intended, I don’t think that he intended the type of system we now have in the church”. “I no longer believe that the priesthood, as we currently have it in the Church, originated with Jesus”. His views here are both theologically and historically unexceptionable. His attackers have simply failed to reckon with his qualification “as we currently have it in the Church” – which makes all the difference.

Their theological assumption seems to be that everything we have in the church today can be attributed to the authority of Jesus – which is palpably untrue.

     Levada and Muller are quite entitled to hold these views; they have no right, however, to impose them on the entire church as authoritative doctrine. Levada obviously thinks that Catholic theology is nothing more than exposition of what the ‘magisterium’ teaches (the magisterium here meaning the CDF).

As many of his traditionalist persuasion like to say, disagreement with their views ‘confuses’ the faithful. Even a man as intelligent as Cardinal Mueller (succeeded Levada as Prefect of the CDF) uses the word ‘confuse’ in this patronising and disingenuous way.

I believe that we cannot morally continue to submit to a regime that flagrantly disregards the spirit and letter of the Second Vatican Council as well as the example of Pope Francis – to say nothing of the Christian Gospel. To allow these men to act as judge means accepting their principles and their antiquated theology. In my view, to expect Father Flannery to submit to the CDF would be to expect him to act against his conscience- which would be morally indefensible.

     I believe that Father Flannery should have the charges against him dismissed and that he be restored to the full exercise of his ministerial duties as an orthodox Catholic priest, and to full and unblemished membership of his religious Order. It is good to know that the brethren of his Province offer him their support and encouragement. I believe that the Redemptorist Order can restore Tony Flannery’s good name, without reference to the Roman Curia.

These are my personal opinions as a theologian. Canon law could for course be invoked against them; but canon law is itself in need of reform and reflects an outdated theology. We have to be prepared to fight these people, lest they once again regain power in our church.


The Revd. Gabriel Daly OSA, STL, MA(Oxon), Ph.D, Hon. Fellow Trinity College Dublin.

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  1. Seamus Ahearne says:

    Tony. I am pleased to be reminded of that article. It is a proper summary of who Gabriel was, and how embarrassing/disappointing your treatment has been. Seamus

  2. Rev. Trish Sullivan Vanni, PhD says:

    Writing from Minnesota in the United States, I want to express my gratitude for the clarity of this article, my solidarity with Father Tony and my appreciation for ACP. I consult your website every week as I prepare liturgy for our Ecumenical Catholic community, the first in Minnesota, of which I am priest and pastoral director.

    As someone who has deep roots in Ireland and holds citizenship, I want to underscore as a theologian (I hold a PhD in ecclesiology and liturgical theology) that many of us in this emergent movement have recognized that overt disagreement and objection to Roman rule and tactics is required in this age. For some of us, that has involved stepping outside the boundaries of Roman Catholicism to proclaim and be the church and visioned by the Second Vatican Council. Personally, after decades of working for change within the system, I decided that the change cannot in fact come from within but needs to come from a parallel movement that is energized and witnessing to the vision and viability of the Church so many of us believe in. Whether the Holy Spirit is in agreement remains to be seen!

    As a student of the Council, I believe that is what the inclusive Catholic communities all over the globe, particularly here in the United States, are doing: building the vision that was cast 50 years ago without waiting for the organizational, top-down need for approval embedded in our bone marrow. I’m in the process of writing a book on the basics of the movement and look forward to some day connecting with many of you in Ireland regarding the critical moment we are in for a more inclusive Catholic Church that reads “the signs of the time and the light of the Gospel.” During my last visit, I prayed with my family in Roman Catholic settings and found the depression and lack of energy, as well as the generational diaspora, as concerning as it is here in the United States.

  3. David Jackson says:

    A prophetic statement of TRUTH.

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