The Cloyne Report: Tony Flannery
I am writing this on the morning after the Cloyne report, and out of the perspective of almost forty years conducting parish missions around the country.
Cloyne was always an unusual diocese, or to be more accurate, Cobh was. In the era after Humanae Vitae, when on our missions we tried to soften the rigid implementation of that teaching in the Irish Church, we met more resistance in Cobh than anywhere else. That Cathedral, with its scrupulous and legalistic bishop (John Ahern) and those six priests houses at the back, was easily the most clerical scene I witnessed in my time. Men like Tim Sheahan, John Thornhill, Pat Twomey and Denis Reidy were clear and strong in their views, and were unwavering servants of the official Church line on all things. So any dialogue was almost impossible. Certainty was the order of the day. Curiously, in the seventies, I met with more anti-clericalism in Cobh than in any place outside of Limerick or Dublin. It must be said that the atmosphere in the rest of the diocese was very different, and there were many great priests there, just as there are today, and my heart goes out to them this morning.
Then John Magee was appointed bishop. Why was he appointed? He was clearly unsuitable, and was an imposition from Rome. Was it that they wanted to get rid of him over there, or that it was a reward for covering up the circumstances of John Paul I’s death. I don’t know, but it was a good example of the terrible policy of Episcopal appointments pursued by John Paul II, which I see as being one of the main reasons for the mess the Church finds itself in today. He was never fully accepted, and his manner and attitudes were foreign to many of the priests and people. He gathered some kudos by promoting perpetual adoration for a time. But I remember an old priest, now long dead, saying to me about 1990 that the diocese would reap a terrible whirlwind from the policies of John Magee.
Of course there never was an easy relationship between John Magee and Denis O’Callaghan, because O’Callaghan felt that he should have got the mitre. So it does not surprise me to learn that a big part of the problems that was revealed yesterday had to do with a lack of communication between the two. O’Callaghan was too much into power and position in the Church himself, as was obvious from his volte face as a moral theologian after Humanae Vitae came out.
All in all, this sorry chapter highlights a lot of what is wrong with the official Church, and with the Vatican bureaucracy. Will anything be learned? I don’t know. The abuse victims have had their day, and that is good. And the state would appear to be responding well. The sooner the handling of everything around sexual abuse of children is dealt with by the state the better; and that is why I am no fan of Church bodies or guidelines dealing with it. It would be much better if anyone who has a complaint in this area did not go to a bishop or a priest, but went to the civil authorities, and let them deal with it. And if the law is not sufficiently strong to handle the complexity of the cases, then let it be changed. In that way there would be no confusion or cover-up.
In the meantime we priests struggle on. And I would ask the people of Cloyne diocese today to be conscious of their own priest, and what it must be like for him. Maybe a word of support or encouragement would help.