Tony Flannery is not the problem!

A new Reader on Meister Eckhart (edited by Jeremiah Hackett) has been published recently. It stuck me that that all the characters of history (like Eckhart) who offered hope and intelligence in our Faith, were always feared. The ‘prophets’ who inspired Vatican II were Giants of Faith but had suffered because their ‘thinking’ was considered ‘dangerous.’ The named ‘prophets’ in Scriptures were consistently dismissed because of their awkwardness. Do we ever learn? All this nonsense of ‘Silencing someone’ is actually a Fear of Questions. It is a Protectionist Policy which satisfies an anxious or paranoid mind . Do we have to protect the ‘Church of Jesus Christ’ from questions? In our Philosophy of years ago, Socrates’- “The unexamined life is not worth living” was a challenge. That has to be the Way to a ‘Life of Faith’ And then we had Anselm: ‘Fides querens intellectum.’ This is now even more important in a very questioning society where Religious practice is collapsing (where ‘God is missing and not missed.’ )
I intended to write on Suicide; then the Abortion issue arose; then the possible recognition of Marriage for the homosexuals in UK and the Church reaction became newsworthy; then we had Algeria and now Tony Flannery’s story erupted. I somehow saw many of the issues stringing together in the phrase from JP2 : ‘The Culture of Death.’ But I would apply it differently. ‘A culture of death’ is seeping into the centre of our Church. Barriers are everywhere. A siege mentality is reappearing. The ‘life of the Spirit’ is being controlled. The siege mentality will accelerate that culture of death. The Body of the Church is dying or killing itself through fear of life. There is paralysis. Carlo Martini was so right in what he said. His voice was needed in the years before his last moments. He could have helped to halt the Official Church’s death wish, as it rapidly closes the doors and the windows of Vatican 2.
The issue of fundamentalism is the most serious one in the Church. It happens in the literalism (and absolutism) in interpreting Scripture. It happens in the ‘New’ emerging Liturgy. It is obvious in the dollops of Latin dumped on our Missal and in the crudity of Latinisms being imported into that Missal. This nonsense is the last refuge for those who cannot handle the ‘real world.’ Such rigidity is a psychosis rather than a life lived in the midst of the ‘ Word made Flesh. ‘
We recoil at the blowing up of the Twin Towers in New York and cannot understand the mentality behind Islamic fundamentalism. We are shocked at the bombing in London of the train and bus on 7th July. We cannot grasp Algeria or the shooting of Mulala in Pakistan by the Taliban. We are frightened at what is occurring in the Arab Spring which at one time, seemed so hopeful. But what is happening in our Church is of a similar ilk. The mindset of our own fundamentalists is also destructive. They know better than Christ what must be done. The Christ of the Gospel had very similar problems. Who did he reserve his strongest words for ?
John Paul II came out of Eastern Europe. He was limited by his experience. He had a big mind which got smaller as he aged. . We were then subjected to his restrictions. His regime then appointed most of our Bishops. That in turn leads to a very reduced ‘model’ (image) of the mission of the Church. If the minds of the Leaders are small; then the outcome for everyone will be curtailed and controlled.
I hoped for an explosion of reality at the Synod. It doesn’t seem to have happened. This was the opportunity for our experienced Leaders to be Prophetic or even to be Truthful and forceful – (like those who attended Vatican II). Evangelisation is about spreading the Gospel in today’s world; in today’s language. The Word has to become flesh. The Word has instead become sterilised rather than enfleshed.
I believe none of us are true to the Gospel if we aren’t struggling with the questions of today. Fear says more about us than it does about Jesus Christ. No question is too big for God. There is an absence of respect for reflection in our Church (and in life generally).
The Church has to be a place where ‘life in all its fullness’ is celebrated. Tony Flannery has done nothing wrong. In fact he has done every thing right. The ACP has done nothing wrong. In fact it does everything right. It deals with life as we who actually work on the ground, meet God daily. The ‘office workers’ in Rome need to do an apprenticeship on the ground or become better informed.
I repeat myself: Our Bishops and our Religious Leaders have to shout STOP. The Charles Browns of this world have to be told what life is about in our homes and in our parishes and in our country. They need to be properly educated. The Bishops of Ireland need to work with the ACP and discover together what matters now and say it. The age of Deference is gone. The stupidity of such a Monarchical (isolated) system is over. Feudalism has ended. We cannot allow the nonsense which is evidenced by this behaviour around the Tony Flannerys of this world to continue. If we remain silent; we are wrong. We let down the Church.
I began my Religious life in 1964. I am almost 40 years a priest. Tony Flannery is my vintage. I understand exactly what he says and know his questions and his search for honesty is right. We deserve to be respected and listened to rather than treated like delinquents! I do say that I have never been curtailed myself and am grateful. But the church I find where I am, is not the Church evidenced, in the Roman behaviour. I don’t recognise that God! There is a need for a thorough renewal in Rome and I know Tony Flannery is not the problem; It exists at the Centre.
I end by saying: I am not surprised by what has happened. I am embarrassed and ashamed that the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ is let down by our Roman bureaucracy. I want to fight to redeem our Church. It still is Good News for me. The Word is made flesh daily and celebrated.
Seamus Ahearne osa Rivermount, Finglas South, Dublin 11.

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  1. Thank you Father Seamus for your profound and thought provoking entry. Yes, it is at the Center of the Church, with the Institution that the “problem” persists and is creating havoc for the rest of the faithful. What’s the sin at the centre? It is lying, hypocrisy, and idolatry. Mr. Mickens, who is a reporter for the Tablet in Rome, says, that the “Vatican Is Imploding”. There is a link to his presentation on this website. Yes, he maintains, that there are a number of signs which indicate that the Vatican is falling apart from the inside. I’m sure this will continue to happen. For those of us, who have every faith, and belief that Christ is leading the way for renewal, we must continue in our own way, to bring about, incarnate, the deeper reality of Christ and the Gospel, yes, but whether we like it or not, that is going to call for changes in our thinking about many things, and it will call for a need for new structures and new approaches to ministry. I, myself, have very little that I disagree with the teaching authority of the Church. I believe so many difficulties could be rectified by the Vatican holding symposiums on “sexuality”, “communion and second relationships”, and finally, the most dreaded of all “women in the church”. We need a symposium on sexuality in general, because I’m not so sure, the Institution is passed the understanding, that the Holy Spirit leaves the room, when even a married couple make love. Then there is communion and acceptance of second relationship people. I didn’t realize it was still an issue. I’ve never been married myself, so some issues seem to escape me. There is no harm to the Church that comes from discussion, consultation and deliberation. As a Church, We are supposed to “do theology” The harm comes when such important pastoral issues are ignored. When it comes to women, in the Church, it is more than just receiving women into the ordained ministry. It is about embracing the feminine principle into our Church. Again, I refer to Father Diarmud O’Murchu’s book, “Reclaiming Spirituality”, where he says the Church must embrace the Feminine Heart. There is so much more to this issue that just ordaining women. In fact, I’m not a supporter of ordaining women into the current structure of the Church, as there needs to be a much greater preparation in the hearts and minds of the Church, people and clergy, before this happens. I feel for Father Flannery. I don’t know if everyone realizes this, but when your name appears in a writing, it also appears on the google websites, when you google your name. I have editorials that I wrote to our local Catholic Paper, “The Western Catholic Reporter” on line, and boy, some of the responses to me are extremely vicious and hurtful. Yes, the prophetic voice in the Church takes a “beating, but we keep on ticking”. Thank you again Father Seamus!

  2. I have a postscript for my comment above. Another way, of understanding what the “problem” at the Center is, is to recognize that the Church’s Dark issue is simply “the abuse of power”. The abuse of power guarantees that the ordinary Catholic is not going to be heard, guarantees that lay people will not be given real decision-making, guarantees that pastoral concerns like women in the church will never see the light of day, guarantees that your conscience will mean diddley-squat, guarantees that people will be falsely accused and censured, guarantees that we have no voice and no recourse, guantees the cover-up of scandals, guarantees that at best the faithful are patronized, but you can be sure that we will corrected and dismissed. This abuse of power is not only at the level of the Vatican. It occurs as well at the local Church level. An example, being, the bishops will not listen or meet with the priests. Then, unfortunately, abuse of power occurs in local parishes as well. The abuse of power, by the powers that be, is what prevents the flourishing of the Church, in a way, that pleases God. However, and I know, I must sound like a broken record already, we must have faith, in what our Blessed Mother says in her Song of Praise: “The Lord Has Shown the Strength of His Arm and Has Brought Down the Mighty from Their Thrones”.

  3. Laura Kuntz says:

    Thank God for brave priests and religious who will speak. Thank you so much, Fr. Ahearne. I will do what I can to spread the word in the USA, but I believe that above and beyond all, the leadership must come from priests and bishops because they have the most at stake (supported, of course, by the active laity).

  4. You all seem so bitter and out of date
    Try to move with the times. The Holy Spirit is guiding and leading the Church, don’t get left behind. God bless our Holy Father Pope Benedict

  5. Mary Cunningham says:

    Very well said, Séamus.
    Creeping fundamentalism is the problem. It is indeed time to shout stop. Dialogue and not silencing, listening with respect, is the only way forward.
    The gentle,compassionate and radically inclusive Jesus, is our inspiration and hope.
    Mary Cunningham

  6. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Questions, lovely questions – yet we offer none other than “Why won’t you listen to us?”

    For dialogue to happen at this level, there has to be a number of things take place. All the Associations will need to present, on the record, a number of questions that the growing parishoner network wish to have addressed. Let’s not make them your questions – put them on us, if you know what I mean.

    Here are a few that I have previously presented:

    Per Canon 212 ~3, is the Pope willing to entertain a worldwide parishoner vote so that we can fully make him aware of certain issues? If not, how many signatories would it take on a petition for him to consider it (and ask for a specific number)?

    According to the Vatican, is Canon Law, truly positive law?

    It is important for positive law to prescribe to natural law. Can it be explained why Canon Law fails on so many issues regarding equal rights and gender equality?

    On the statement: “All people, believers and non believers, are called to recognize the needs of human nature expressed in Natural Law and guided by Positive Law issued by Civil and Political Authorities to regulate human coexistence. When the Natural Law and the responsibilities it entails are denied, it dramatically opens the way for ethical relativism at the individual level and for totalitarianism at the political and state level.” With Canon Law failing Natural Law, what prevents this from manifesting itself in the Roman Catholic Church?

    Please if anyone has anthing else to submit, feel free.

  7. Gerard Rodgers says:

    The sentiment in this article is so well articulated and constructed. There is real heart,concern and friendship expressed within it.

  8. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Once again Fr Seamus Ahearne is a breath of fresh air in his own no-nonsense penetration to the heart of the matter. So too is Joe O’Leary on two or three threads last night, cutting through the pious mystification on the shadowy origins of priesthood which the CDF now want to re-commission as their killer weapon of orthodoxy. Other priests here, notably Fr Pearse Timoney, have thrown down the gauntlet to their ACP colleagues to cut through the mute silence and the crap. It is after all intended principally to be a website to give Irish priests a voice – why are so many so silent for so long?
    Yesterday’s Irish Times editorial managed to boost ACP membership tenfold by letting in a stray zero. They were more careful to keep out my stray letter, but perhaps it still has a point to make:
    “When Kavanagh wrote that the standing army of Irish poets seldom falls below 10,000, we may be sure that he’d dipped his pen in the inkwell of irony. Your editorial (‘The price of conscience’, January 23rd) has boosted ACP membership to a mighty standing army of 10,000. If only! Even in the year of the Gathering that would mean scouring the highways and byways of Ireland’s priestly diaspora back over several generations or centuries.
    Unfortunately, at least 95% of the ACP’s actual standing army find it more politic to remain as silent as Trappists or church mice in the face of Rome’s latest stifling of one of our clearest voices of conscience. Would the silence of 10,000 be any more eloquent than the silence of a thousand?”

  9. I am signing the petition but I feel, presumably like many other members of ACTA, that he is still a priest and I am extremely happy to be a member of his long distance congregation, or personally to receive the benefit of his ministry should he visit England. For me, attempts by the Hierarchy to excommunicate him would be in vain; they would simply be excommunicating themselves from the Church entrusted to Peter by Jesus of Nazareth. The Church belongs to me as much as to the Hierarchy in Rome, and I will neither abandon it in disgust, nor would I allow myself to be excommunicated by those who disgust me. Therese Freebury

  10. Ned Quinn says:

    OK Eddie Finnigan. I am a member of the ACP since the beginning. I am an Oblate priest working in the Archdioces of Dublin. As far as I am concerned, the leadership have spoken for all of us in their total support for Tony. But if you want names..now you have another one.

  11. I support what Therese comments above. Jesus passes on “apostolic succession to Peter”, who represents, the entire Church, who are the Lord’s, Rock. Just as we say, that the bishops as a collegium receive their mission, so does the “sensus fidelium” who are no less central to the Church! I’m not saying we donot need “organization”, but beware of the “yeast of the Pharisees” who would say to you that your responsibility as sensus fidelium is to “pay, pray, and obey”, while they, be the “real church”. You are correct, Therese, We, as the rest of the Church are no less central and the Church belongs to us as much as it does the heirarchy. For the CDF to parcel out corrections, censures, and excommunications is first of all, an abuse of power, but it also says, that they would consider themselves above reproach and that they donot have to receive any critical feedback from the rest of the church, because. well, they’ve been divinely appointed, right? Doesn’t that make them sovereign and infallible? Why should we listen to you, they say? Who are you? No, we’ll give the orders around here….you pay, pray and obey and we’ll get along nicely that way. No?, What do you mean, you won’t?

  12. Just supposing the tables were turned and the Pope began silencing all the fundamentalist in a move to have Christian Unity. Would they remain silent? Would they obediently shut their mouths and pray, pay and obey? Would they say the Holy Spirit was leading the Pope? Would they say “Move on, get with the times”?
    Really, if you are a traditional Catholic yearning for the monarchical ways of the Church what would you really do? Please ponder these questions before you answer any of these questions!

  13. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Ned (@10), I know you’ve been there from the very start and I for one have always appreciated your comment here. I wonder whether part of the problem on this site has been that it’s become swamped with lay spouters like myself with more time on our hands than we know what to do with. I still think that if more of the thousand ordained would muscle into some of the discussion, the rest of us might be “put in our place”, so to speak. [Now, just wait till some of my fellow lay-spouters read that – I’d better leg it.]

  14. Con Carroll says:

    let’s not become desponded, depressed. let’s us be a people of vision and hope
    remember Tony is not alone. Archbishop Oscar Romero. El Salvador. Maryknoll Martyrs women murdered in El Salvador 1982. Jesuit Martyrs, staff members of UCLA El Salvador. Victor Jara Chile. Arbishop Desmond Tutu. South Africa. Fr. Jon Sobrino SJ. El Salvador
    I agree with Tonys views about priesthood. the main theme of the Gospels of Jesus was solidarity with people who are alienated. as Dr Margaret Kennedy. has expressed her views on this site
    I have no doubt we will b asked what side are we on when thousands have experienced loosing their employment. homes. while thousands have been forced to immigrate. it will not be about dressing up in clerical robes, wanting to be everything to everybody.
    the Gospels are not about cheering on Goldman Sachs

  15. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Ed/Ned, this website has the same problem as the Roman Curia. They have a plan in their heads and don’t feel they need any direction from anyone. We’ve told the Associations, time and time again, that we are willing to help them but they feel like it’s their burden to carry. Most of the people who comment on this website, although eloquent, offer no feedback on how this is proceeding. It’s either a “we support you fully…” or “where are your heads..?” scenario. Which is all good for the “ego” behind such a website but not good for there to be an eventual world wide concerted effort to establish a parishioner poll like the one that was conducted by the ACP. I see a lot of talk, but not a lot of questions asked which is usually a sign that no one is either listening or feel they have to listen. Had they been listening, they would know that the other Associations, for as much support as they can bring, worry that creating impediments with Rome is a make or break scenario. Rome can silence priests and deter membership – they can’t however, silence a growing group of parishioners. If we have a first level support of priests to forward our questions to Rome, then there is nothing stopping us. I was honestly hoping some valid questions would be put out there to the Vatican on the next “media circus” and I was disappointed to find out that there were none. If you listen to the elders before us that shared our vision of how this next evolution takes place, you will find the strategy because they told you how this all goes down.

  16. Thank you Soline for alerting us to fr Paddy Byrne’s article. What an wonderful example he is giving to all by sharing his feelings, with truth and honest and much sadness, with his parishioners, many of who will no doubt be experiencing the same emotions. It is truly inconprehensible that a person of Fr Tony’s standing, or indeed any person, should be treat is such an unchristian way by those whose profession it is to be Christlike. What is so damaging to suggest that “something” “might” happen in the future. What wrong has the man done? Absolutely none. There are plenty who have abused their position and truly betrayed their Church. I am not aware of they being silenced or threatened with excommunication.

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