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Tony Flannery can wear the Holy Office-imposed Silentium badge with pride

Tertullian, in or about the year 200, tackled the imperial magisterium of his fellow Roman African, Septimius Severus, with all the zeal of the newly converted but with the pungent wit of one who wasn’t going to put up with any silencing or persecution from those who thought his newly espoused sect of Christians, or his own Montanist denomination of choice, should offer sacrifice (even if with a mental reservation) to some recently deified dead emperor in distant Rome.
Where the hell would you be without us? he went on in his definitely unapologetic ‘Apologeticum’. Who do you think has been keeping a bit of moral backbone in all your offices of state in your far-flung outposts, since all we’ve left you are your silly temples? We are and wish to remain at the very heart of the Empire – but if you do martyr us remember: “semen est sanguis Christianorum”.
The blood of martyrs certainly seems to have given the ACP a spurt of Easter growth over the past few days, if we are to judge from the 200+ comments over half a dozen threads on this site and a scatter of letters in the Dublin papers. Let’s hope this new growth doesn’t all melt away like snow off a ditch when the story moves on. I guess Fr Flannery’s witness, and that of his colleagues both in ‘Reality’ and the ACP, would count as what used be called ‘white martyrdom’. Those of us who were reared on Redemptorist parish missions of the 1940s/’50s variety will appreciate the journey Fr Tony and (many of) his confreres have travelled over the decades to supply us with new wine in reassuringly old redemptorist bottles. Rome’s Holy Office-imposed Silentium is a badge he can wear with pride. Congar and many others were here before him. Shouldn’t it be up to all those who have benefited from his missions, retreats, conferences, books, Reality columns and ACP website posts and moderation over decades to persuade Levada’s lot to face reality?
I have just spent most of Holy and Easter Weeks in another old imperial city, Vienna, which happily has bequeathed most of its imperial sense of entitlement and hangups, secular and ecclesiastical, to its wonderful museums, palaces, art galleries and cathedral. Stephansdom is the heart of Vienna and was certainly the heart of our holiday. If you’re into martyrdom, you might as well start with the Archmartyr himself whose feastday at least the Irish haven’t turned into boxing day. It was a rare privilege to be part of a packed congregation accompanying Christoph Scho(e)nbron through Holy Week: from the Gregorian Lauds of Tuesday morning; through Thursday’s Fusswaschung (I thought he might have washed Fr Helmut Schu(e)ller’s feet as a token of the new ‘radicalism of obedience’ wafting north from Rome!); through Friday’s St John’s Passion with full St Stephan’s Choir for the crowd scenes; through a rich three-hour Easter Vigil with Schonbron developing the Exsultet message and processing through his cathedral’s every nook and cranny to make sure we’d all got the message and his blessing; through his Easter Sunday Pontifical High Mass (Beethoven Messe C-Dur mit Handels Halleluja) with ne’er an inch or centimetre of watered silk cappa magna to be seen; and finally a Mozart Vespers on Sunday evening to put the cap on all the incidental bits of Bruckner, Haydn, Handel and all the local lads. No, Seán Ó Riada isn’t quite in the same league.
I can only think how blest the Austrian Priests’ Initiative (PI) are to have Christoph Schonborn as their shepherd and fuhrer (=guide), questioner and reiner-in, and go-between when push comes to shove. Of course his address to his priests at his own Chrisammesse a few days before Benedict lobbed in his ‘radical obedience’ grenade in the general direction of “a group of priests from a European country” was pure Schonbornese towards asking PI to drop the “disobedience” word on three key issues. If only the ACP had a similarly well endowed dialogue partner among the Irish bishops! If only our shepherds weren’t such sheep. But then you wouldn’t catch Schonborn, or any German-speaking bishop, leading off the Creed with “Ich glaube an den einen Gott” rather than “Wir glauben …”, or going on with “konsubstantialischer mit dem Vater” instead of “eines Wesens mit …”.
But it is Schonborn’s triple repetition in his Easter homily of the ancient phrase “Apostel der Apostel” (Apostle to the Apostles) that stuck in my mind. I must by now have sat through about 65 Easter homilies touching on Christ’s commissioning of Mary of Magdala to “go and find the brothers” (wherever they’re hiding) “and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” But after all those homilies in Crossmaglen, Armagh, Maynooth, Sierra Leone and Westminster, I had to go to Vienna and stretch my few words of German to breaking point to hear Mary of Magdala described as “Apostle to the Apostles”, not just once but three times. Do you think, if the Austrian Priests’ Initiative could just give Schonborn a bit of a break, he might still be elected at the next conclave, Rome might stop airbrushing more than half its membership from history and ministry, and the Magdalene cardinals might be a substantial, or even consubstantial, voting bloc at the next conclave but one. Anyway, Paddy Power is still offering attractive odds on an Austrian for Pope, so my few quid will be resting impatiently on Christoph.

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  1. Adrian Egan, C.Ss.R. says:

    Whoever you are, thank you. Just brilliant! Needed that. 🙂 Would you like to come work on parish missions or novenas??

  2. Eddie, that is brilliant — as usual. I was wondering where you were this last week. I was in a very dark place on Holy Thursday evening when I realised they were harassing Tony and it got worse on Good Friday. By the time I reached the Rosses on Holy Saturday the Donegal rain helped me chill out. Then when I checked the ACP site on Sunday night and realised the extent of the outpouring of support, prayer and Christian love for Tony and Fr. Gerard I was totally uplifted to a much brighter, happier place. I had often thought what a pity it was that so few of us contribute to the site and especially that so few of the hundreds of priests who are now ACP members contribute — given that so many of them have so much more learning, wisdom and discernment in this field than the likes of me giving my tuppence-worth every so often. Well, I need fret no more. What a wonderful response from so many of our priests and lay people and from men and women. Even before the results of the Amárach survey were published it was clear that the views of the fundamentalist triumphalists — perhaps unenlightened fanatics is a better description– who contribute to this site, are shared by a very tiny minority. As Iwas leaving home on Monday evening I bought a copy of the Irish Times in which there was a very powerful piece by your old friend, Patsy McGarry, under the heading ” Theologian claims there is “ominous divide” in Church”. Fr. Gabriel Daly was the theologian in question and the article ends with Fr. Séan Duggan’s quote from this site last Saturday — ” First they came for Tony and I didn’t speak out because because I wasn’t a Flannery ………… I have forwarded the article to many like-minded friends since last Monday.
    Like Seamus Ahearne, I have faith and some hope too in our Bishops. I am sure many of them — perhaps all of them- feel as we do this week. These are men, after all, who have had their priesthood moulded by the vision and theology of Vatican II. Yet, for some reason because of the nature of the clerical culture in our Church — which I struggle to understand — they remain silent. Let us pray for our Bishops that they have the faith and courage to stand up for what is good and righteous . That would be the ultimate witness not just for our Irish Church but for the our Church throughtout the world. Good to have you back ,Eddie

  3. Soline Humbert says:

    Eddie,Thank you for your post.Perhaps the reason you hadn’t heard before homilies about the apostle to the apostles Mary of Magdala is because her successors are not allowed to either proclaim the Gospel at Mass or preach ( another form of silencing)… Also, as far as I know the Gospel where she is commissioned ( John 20:11-18) is never read on Sundays so very few catholics know about it. Mary of Magdala, as spokesperson for the Risen Christ had the authority to speak in persona Christi, to re-present Christ to the other disciples/apostles. ” I have seen the Lord and this is what He told me”. That authority was the authority of love.
    There is a very thought-provoking new book by Episcopalian priest, scholar and mystic,Cynthia Bourgeault on this topic: The Meaning Of Mary Magdalene, Discovering the woman at the heart of Christianity.(2010)
    With regards to your comment about Rome airbrushing half of its (female) membership from history and ministry, I have a Rite&Reason piece in the Irish Times( to be published on 17th April) on this very subject. Mary of Magdala,loving and faithful apostle of the Risen Christ,is emerging from the shadows, bearing healing gifts for the hardened institutional heart of Christianity: ” I have seen the Lord and this is what He has told me”.There is Good News to be heard afresh!

  4. Seminarian II (aka Gearóid Mary) says:

    I think there might be something to what another pro-ACP letter writer claims: “I’ll admit to being a bit fearful myself when I see a kind of smug triumphalism and schadenfreude emanating from certain ardent Catholics over the silencing of Tony Flannery.” That may be so; however, there is a smugness of a far worse kind emanating from certain quarters who liken Fr. Flannery to a martyr. Eddie, in his (as always) superbly crafted prose, has proceeded to do such a thing. He likens Fr. Flannery to Yves Congar. I would like to point out that Congar committed his opinions to writing – this was scholarship. The opinions were there at the disposal of the Church to reflect upon, and over time some of them gained acceptence. Congar, who resigned himself to a fate worse than Flannery, was vindicated. He remained silent. His was not a bravado-like existence that continuously challenged the Church. He being an ecclesiologist understood the Church, her workings and maintained a great respect for her.

  5. Mary O Vallely says:

    Oh but my heart leapt with joy when I read Eddie’s piece above. Laughter is the shortest distance between people after all. Good to see you back, Eddie, and on fire! I too like what I’ve read about Schonborn. I thought he did the right thing by the gay man who was elected by a majority onto a parish council but whom the PP dismissed as he was living in a civil partnership. Schonborn met with the man and his partner and was so impressed by his faith and his life witness that he re-instated him having asked himself, “What would Jesus do?” That was heartwarming to read. However I read yesterday that the PP has now asked to be moved to another parish. Schonborn did not meet with him, did not grant him the courtesy of explaining his reasons. Big mistake and I wondered at the relationship between a bishop and his priests and this lack of real communication.
    Surely we need to establish some sort of trusting relationship before any of these contentious issues can be discussed? That, to me, seems to be the number one priority. By focussing on controversial topics like mandatory celibacy, women priests, the ban on contraception etc; we are polarising people. I read the bewilderment and fear of many good practicing Catholics on this forum who cannot understand the likes of so many of us who have embraced the objectives of the ACP with open, welcoming and overly enthusiastic arms. (because we’ve never had a sense of belonging really, a real sense of ownership. Hence the “overly” enthusiastic and emotional outpourings.) 🙂
    I have an image in my mind of a ladder. Jesus is holding it.
    “C’mon down, boys!” he says tenderly to the wee frail old men at the top of the ladder. “You can’t be heard from up there nor can you hear what those below you are saying.” He helps them down, telling them to discard all the baggage. It’s not needed.
    “Now, let’s form a circle round me, ” he says gently, “and let us begin to really listen to each other.”
    I’d also like to commend Sean O’Conaill for his excellent, challenging article on “Was the Visitation just another Holy Show?” Why indeed were Catholic educated civil servants, politicians, police officers etc; not moved to “moral outrage and effective action” by the abuse and the cover up? Why was it the efforts of the secular media to bring the abuse and cover up to light that forced Church authorities to act? These are profoundly disturbing questions and we all need to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Finally I appeal to all lay people in particular to give voice to their passion and their thoughts and ideas on a way forward. There are more of us, after all, and we have nothing to lose being on the bottom rung of the ladder. Let us not give up but continue to work at building up trusting relationships. I feel sorry for bishops and hope that they too feel the comfort of the wall of prayer that surrounds them. What we all have in common is a love of and a desire to follow Christ although it is not at all easy. Bail ó Dhia oraibh. Mary V (Armagh)

  6. Eddie, I had been missing your incisive and insightful contributions over the past week but the above is well worth waiting for. You have an awesome gift for using humour to hit the nail on the head. (I even forgive you the mysterious reference to Seán O Riada).The above responses are such Good News too in these turbulent times. Soline, I look forward to Tuesday’s Rite and Reason. Kevin Hegarty’s contribution to that column on Tuesday (10th) was brilliant too. Thanks, Mary O.V. for the parable and so much more. I couldn’t reach this database for a while so there may have been other comments since. The Sabbath is looking up! All I can add is my original contention that, agree or disagree, we are all on the same side i.e. that of the Realm of God as proclaimed by Jesus Christ.

  7. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments: Adrian, Paddy, Soline, Mary, Eileen. Looking forward to Soline’s Rite & Reason tomorrow. Mary, I’m sure you’re right about Christoph’s going over the head of Florian Stangl’s PP. He should at least have invited him to the lunch. Paddy Power has probably raised his papabile odds already!
    Eileen, I’m all for Seán Ó Riada’s Mass(es), but I think the Austrians and Germans were well ahead of us. As An tAth Donnchadh Ó Floinn said nearly sixty years ago in ‘The Integral Irish Tradition’, our post-Emancipation Catholicism was a poor, imitative, imported thing, liturgy-resisting, unintellectual, unimaginative in sacred art, music, church-building – “blinking and stumbling along into the full light of freedom, unaware that it was walking ungainly as if it had gyves on.” Which bits of all that do we blame on the Brits? on Maynooth? on Famine and poverty? on Paul Cullen? on Roman tethers and silencers? on our own fecklessness?
    Ah, Gearóid Mary, I’m genuinely delighted not to have to go on calling you ‘Sem II’. But, Gearóid, you misquote Mary O’s “smug triumphalism and schadenfreude”, only worse, against me! Sigmund Freud I can accept after my Vienna sojourn, but Smug Schadenfreude’s a different animal entirely.
    Perhaps I should have said ‘the blood-letting’, rather than the blood, of martyrs. But your NT koiné Greek will have already told you I was talking of martyr as witness. The Old Irish Cambrai Homily (late 7th century or early 8th) speaks to Matthew 16:24: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The homilist’s take on the verse is: “We carry Christ’s cross in two ways, both when we mortify the body through fasting, and when out of compassion we regard the neighbour’s needs as our own. The one who has compassion for his neighbour’s needs truly carries the cross in his heart.” I think our homilist would say that men like Tony Flannery and Seán Fagan have shown a lifetime of compassion for their neighbours’ most intimate needs of body and spirit. Maybe those at the outset of the pastoral journey should tread more carefully in criticism.
    Our ancient father in faith then draws on St Jerome and Pope St Gregory the Great’s ‘Homilia in Evangelia’ to distinguish the three categories of martyrdom. For him, “bánmartre (‘white martyrdom’) is separation from all that one loves, perhaps on a ‘peregrinatio pro Christo’ that might not be of one’s own choosing and that might be extended permanently.” Maybe Seán and Tony have a keener appreciation of that ‘bánmartre’ than any of the Maynooth Seventy or even their more cautious formators.
    And no, Gearóid, I didn’t “liken Fr Flannery to Yves Congar” – though I don’t see why I shouldn’t have. I said Congar and others had been there before him. But you seem to make a very “Loftus or Renehan Hallish” distinction between the “scholarship” of an ecclesiologist committing his opinions to writing at the disposal of the Church, and on the other hand the lived pastoral life of a committed guide and pastor, preacher and writer who, too, has given a life’s service at the disposal of the People of God and of his Redeemer. One doesn’t do greater honour to the great Yves by maligning one of our own most courageous challengers or dismissing his mission as a “bravado-like existence”. Gearóid Mary, walk the walk for forty years; talking the talk before you leave the traps isn’t even the beginning.

  8. Ok,
    so no opposing remarks are allowed, even if they are Christ’s words. You are as hypocritical as I expected … but still disappointing.
    May God bless you all with enough discernment to realise how wrong you are being.

  9. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Enda, not quite sure who your charge of hypocrisy is aimed at. Maybe you need to expand your contribution a little and join the discussion. Certainly I hope Gearoid Mary and the other seminarians stay engaged with any discussion we have here, even if it tends to be a little knockabout and teasing at times. They are, in large part, the future of the Irish Church, hopefully open to diverse opinion and argument. So of course all “opposing remarks” are not only allowed but welcome and necessary. But your own piously expressed prayer for our discernment seems remarkably like a judgemental curse . . . ?

  10. deanr@pacbell.net says:

    Hi– here’s the association that the silenced Irish priest, Tony Flannery, is from. This fellow is truly an optimist…

  11. Sean Simpson says:

    The Bishop of St John Lateran and his enclosed community might want to silence our pastors-they are entitled to their wishes-but the Faithful(Let us reclaim the word !) might want to hear them so as to evaluate how much of the Gospel they contain, or even receive the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit from them !
    Oh, and I do think that preventing someone from performing a task central to their work or ministry and muzzling their objections to such restrictions is at least prima facie illegal. I would dearly like someone to challenge such behaviour in a Court of Law.The use of the shield of Canon Law has a bad record in the Ireland of recent times.
    Praying for true dialogue and respect for all in our Catholic Community and beyond and in support for all who promote the Gospel of The Lord

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