Why should Tony Flannery remain ‘under sanction’?

 Respected Scripture Scholar accepts that Jesus did not ordain anyone, or found a Church.


The main issue that the Vatican objected to in my writing was that I suggested that Jesus did not ordain anyone. They regarded that as ‘heresy”

Now, in a letter to The Tablet magazine, a highly respected Scripture scholar, saying he is expressing views common to many other biblical scholars, goes much farther than I did ten years ago, and the world doesn’t fall in.  This is the letter:

Has the Holy Father made a mistake in not permitting the ordination of women, even initially only to the diaconate? The exclusion of women from ministry can be traced not only to tradition but also to an erroneous reading of the evolution of “church” and its ministries.

In common with many other biblical scholars, I would affirm the following. Firstly, the historical Jesus encountered very few non-Jews. His ministry was “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Jesus did not foresee a separate religious movement, later given the name Christianity.

Much less did he foresee a Church (the term is found in the Gospels in Matthew alone), with specific structures and ministries. In the New Testament, varieties of ministries are indeed evident, in particular in Paul, Matthew and Luke-Acts. Towards the end of the first century, these settled into servants, elders and overseers (the later deacons, priests and bishops). The Council of Trent, in affirming that all seven sacraments were somehow instituted by Jesus, made the mistake of accepting the way the Reformers posed the question. This was unnecessary (though understandable in pre-critical times) and brings with it insurmountable historical difficulties.

If the above is substantially accurate, then the historical Jesus “ordained” nobody at all and the Last Supper was not an ordination service, simply because the historical Jesus did not reckon with a body separate from his own Jewish faith.

As a result, the argument from the Last Supper that only men can be ordained makes no sense. What we have inherited, across the Christian centuries, is the Spirit-guided tradition, reflecting a graced evolution. There is no reason to think that the Holy Spirit has stopped guiding us in these critical times. Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches!

(Dr) Kieran J. O’Mahony osa biblical studies coordinator, Holy Cross Diocesan Centre, Dublin, Ireland

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One Comment

  1. Brendan Cafferty says:

    Reading the above Fr Tony must surely feel aggrieved. With all that’s going on in the world and the problems facing the church I would paraphrase Winston Churchill. He wrote at time of First World War’s end of the cataclysm that swept the world and as the deluge subsided and the waters fell short with everything changed,the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerged once more, the integrity of their petty quarrels uppermost like the spires. The people who cornered Tony on minor issues in mostly in-house publications have as we say in West of Ireland, little to be doing. This is a good priest who has done nothing wrong, has spent nearly a decade in this limbo situation. As one advances in years, that is a lifetime.
    One would have thought that Pope Francis might have rectified matters like this, that he has not done so is a matter of grave disappointment. Maybe he is too removed from such matters, maybe he is”cocooned” and isolated to use a new phrase, maybe little has changed, maybe he is too old with many around him waiting for him to move on or retire. Whatever the reason it is not a good situation. Take the shackles off this priest who never let down the church he served so well, and where are our bishops?

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