Vatican cardinal defends issuing fidelity oaths to Irish priest Tony Flannery

VATICAN CITY — The head of the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal congregation Sept. 22 defended his office’s request that an Irish priest sign four strict oaths of fidelity to Catholic teachings, saying the move, while “very unpleasant,” was part of the congregation’s duty as the global church’s orthodoxy watchdog.

Responding to a question from NCR about the case of Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who has been suspended from ministry for eight years, primarily over his support for women’s ordination, Cardinal Luis Ladaria said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had done “everything possible” to dialogue with the priest.


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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Paul VI gave a very different charter for the CDF than the one Ladaria is following. As a dogmatic theologian (thesis on Christology in St Hilary of Poitiers), Ladaria is too prone to see “the faith” and “orthodoxy” threatened in Catholic discussions of gender and sexuality.

  2. Roy Donovan says:

    It is very disturbing that a Cardinal at the top of the Church cannot do the truth – is telling lies or so deceives himself that he thinks he is telling the truth. To be a follower of Christ surely requires absolute honesty.

  3. Sean O’Conaill says:

    So the CDF’s role is ‘to protect the faith’?

    Is that the praying faith in Jesus Christ of any living person or people – the Irish, say – or a ‘faith’ that subsists solely in the CDF’s own minute textual formulations re sexuality?

    Does the CDF know that Irish faith in the former can survive even the injustices perpetrated by a professedly Catholic and Christian moral bureaucracy – sustained by the patience of those it accuses – because saving the face of Catholic moral bureaucracy became a global priority at exactly the moment this process of CDF accusation of Irish persons of faith began?

    And we have all already seen this movie many times, sometime between Christmas and June?

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    This is Paul VI’s charter for the post-conciliar reform of the CDF.

    … “On 21 July 1542 Our Beloved Predecessor Paul III, with the Apostolic Constitution Licet ab initio founded the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Universal Roman Inquisition to which he entrusted as its proper end the duty of persecuting heresy and consequently of suppressing crimes against the faith, of prohibiting dangerous books and of appointing Inquisitors for the whole Church. Very often its power was extended to other matters, either because of their difficult nature or because of their singular importance.

    “In 1908, as the name Universal Roman Inquisition was not best suited to the conditions of the time, Saint Pius X with the Constitution Sapienti Consilio changed it to the “Congregation of the Holy Office”.

    “But, because there is no fear in love (1 Jn 4:18), the defense of the faith is now better served by promoting doctrine, in such a way that, while errors stand corrected and those who err are gently called back to the truth, heralds of the Gospel may find new strength. Moreover, the advance of human culture, whose the importance the religious field must not overlook, is that the faithful follow the directives of the Church with greater adhesion and love, if, insofar as in matters of faith and morals it is possible to make clear to them the reasons for definitions and laws.

    “So, that from now on this Sacred Congregation may more perfectly fulfill its role in promoting the sound doctrine and efficacy of the Church in the most important works of apostolate, in virtue of Our Supreme Apostolic Authority we have established the following norms to alter its name and its regulation:

    “4. It examines new teachings and new opinions in whatever way they are spread, it promotes studies in this area, and encourages the Congresses of scholars; it condemns those teachings found to be contrary to the principles of the faith, after, however, having heard the view of the Bishops of those regions, if they are specifically connected with the issues.

    “5. It carefully examines books that have been reported and, if necessary, condemns them, after, however, having heard the author, to whom is given the faculty to defend himself, also in writing, and not without having notified the Ordinary, as was already established in the Constitution Sollicita ac Provida by Our Predecessor of happy memory Benedict XIV.


    Subsequent changes in this vision introduced by John Paul II should be looked at critically.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Looking at recent decisions of the CDF I found this quaint story:

    “On 28 September 2007, Gaston Hebert, the then apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Little Rock, stated that (per the 11 July Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) six Arkansas nuns were excommunicated for heresy (the first in the diocese’s 165-year history). They refused to recant the doctrines of the Community of the Lady of All Nations (Army of Mary). The nuns are members of the Good Shepherd Monastery of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge in Hot Springs. Sister Mary Theresa Dionne, 82, one of the six, said they will still live at the convent property, which they own. The sect believes that its 86-year-old founder, Marie Paule Giguere, is the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary.”

    The list of recent CDF decisions spells out a pretty dismal theological landscape:

  6. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #4. Very useful, Joe, thanks. Are the John Paul II ‘changes of vision’ available succinctly somewhere?

  7. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #5 That sounds like one for Inspector Montalbano, Joe. The pressing need for excommunication surely suggests not only a fixed belief re the reincarnation of Our Lady but a complete impossibility that these octogenerians were more in need of what Americans call TLC than expulsion from the Christian community.

    Do we know what appalling horrors of infectious error were ongoing here to make it impossible for the CDF to treat this matter as a concerned psychiatrist, or even a CNN reporter might? From what, in short, was the faith of anyone else protected? From the danger of believing that the CDF could ever be as sensible and kindly as Jesus and Our Lady would have been in the same circumstances?

    In the worst case would not a simple statement that the belief of this community was mistaken have been enough?

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    Did these words of Pope Francis mean anything?

    Sean, to bring the hammer of excommunication down on an 82 year old woman who thinks her foundress reincarnates the BVM seems to demand psychoanalytical explanation. In leaping to the defence of the BVM so ferociously, do the CDF monsignors reveal some sort of mother complex?

    John Paul II’s repressive outlook is reflected in the changes he made in the Code of Canon Law in Ad Tuendam Fidem:

    The newly added paragraph deals with teachings that are not infallibly defined, and make dissent from them a crime to be punished: “750.2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held; namely those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

    Other parts of the Code are changed to align them with this. E.g.

    “1436.2. In addition to these cases, whoever obstinately rejects a teaching that the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops, exercising the authentic Magisterium, have set forth to be held definitively, or who affirms what they have condemned as erroneous, and does not retract after having been legitimately warned, is to be punished with an appropriate penalty.”

    So the chief role of the CDF (before it was given the task of handling sex abuse cases) becomes that of suppressing dissent on issues central to John Paul II’s culture wars, such as the non-ordainability of women, contraception, and homosexuality.

    Ad Tuendam Fidem was trounced by Richard McCormick: “Pope John Paul II’s recent apostolic letter, Ad tuendam fidem (“To Defend the Faith”) admonishes leaders and teachers of the Catholic Church against theological dissent and warns that Catholic theologians who publicly challenge “definitive” church teachings “may be punished with a just penalty.” According to Rev. Richard A. McCormick, S.J., John A. O’Brien Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics at Notre Dame, the letter represents a “shift in ecclesial climate” from persuasion to coercion.” In the August 14 (1998) edition of Commonweal magazine, Father McCormick notes that Pope John Paul II’s predecessor, Pope Paul VI, “wanted people to be ‘convaincus, pas vaincus’ (‘convinced, not conquered’). This is no longer our climate.” According to Father McCormick, this new, coercive church atmosphere “threatens ministry, sours the laity and divides the church” the very opposite of what the pope intended.”

    The Catholic right were delighted: “Notre Dame philosopher Alfred J. Freddoso fully supports Pope John Paul II’s recent apostolic letter. “The pope’s letter is bad news for a generation of Catholic thinkers who have tried so hard to accommodate Catholic faith and morals to the bourgeois standards of 1990s American culture,” he says. “The pope understands that he will be criticized by the dissenters, but his goal is to encourage fidelity among the increasing number of young and zealous Catholic scholars who see undiluted Catholic Christianity as a deep and coherent alternative to rampant hedonism, consumerism and moral skepticism.”” (reported by Michael Garvey, Notre Dame Resources)

  9. Sean O'Conaill says:

    It would obviously be irreverent to refer to the CDF as Peter’s Keystone Cops, but, as their days are clearly numbered – due to the imminence of the New Pentecost…would The Tombstone Cops do?

    There’s a Wyatt Earp reference there, I suppose, especially as he too was never even wounded – not even at the OK Corral. The Daltons just couldn’t hit him…

  10. Brian Culley says:

    Papa Francisco needs to invite Fr. Flannery
    to Santa Marta’s for a friendly visit and
    ask him to stay the night and concelebrate the
    Eucharist together the next day.

  11. Paddy Ferry says:

    Brian@11, that would be wonderful. Do we not have a Jesuit who would have the ear of Papa Francisco? I am now thinking of Fr. James Alison’s suspension and how quickly Francis sorted that out – “I return to you the keys.”

    I cannot imagine that Francis would allow this to continue with Tony if he knew all the facts and especially the significance of Tony’s ministry over many years – for example, apart from every thing else, his vital role, with Brendan, in founding the Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    Brian Culley, great idea. If Pope Francis really is a prophetic figure he should take it up.

    But remember he has vowed never to consider women priests.

  13. Cainneach O Bradaigh says:

    Pope Francis talks about the need to accompany people on their journey and to discern together taking into account the story of the unfolding of each person’s story. Yet when it comes to religious and priests the CDF only deals with the Higher Superiors whom it can control. Hence Tony Flannery along with other men and women are denied justice because we have a punitive measure of justice fuelled by the fear of public opinion. People are reduced to anonymous numbers rather than deal with as human beings and using the notion of restorative justice. Civil society is more just in its ways than a Clerical Church on the Défense of its own Image. Where is forgiveness and humility?

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