ACI speaks out on Fr. Tony Flannery controversy
The Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI] expressed concerns in relation to the Fr. Tony Flannery case via a letter to the Irish Times on Wednesday 23 January. Unfortunately the letter has not been published to date – see text below.
In light of comments from Fr. Tony during the week which clarified the chronology of events and the role of the CDF in the controversy in recent months the ACI deemed it appropriate to address an ‘open letter’ to the Papal Nuncio which is also published below.
Letter to the Irish Times
We, the members of the Steering Group of the ‘fledgeling’ Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI], view with great sadness the impasse which has developed between Fr. Tony Flannery and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF]. In this week of prayer for Christian Unity, when Catholics are encouraged to enter into dialogue with members of other churches, it seems extraordinary that the CDF has refused dialogue with one of our own priests. We have sympathy too for the leaders of the Redemptorists in Ireland and abroad in the dilemma in which they have been placed.
The position of the Irish bishops is not known. Since they have insisted on the right of politicians to follow their consciences in a free vote on the abortion legislation issue, surely consistency and coherence must demand that they champion the right of a priest to follow his conscience? As the present Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote: “Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed over all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.” (Commentary on Section 16 of Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.)
We wish to express our full support for the stance of Fr. Tony Flannery in refusing to sign, under threat of excommunication, a document which would contravene his own conscience. His views may not be shared by all, but they were formed over four decades of walking with, and listening to, Irish Catholics, and as such deserve at least to be heard and discussed. We therefore appeal to the Papal Nuncio to use his good offices to facilitate a process of dialogue and reconciliation.
Jacqueline Nelson, Tony Corcoran, Patricia Higgins, Martin Murray, Cathy Molloy, Tom Curran & Noel McCann.
Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI]
Letter to the Papal Nuncio
Dear Archbishop Brown,
As members of the Steering Group of the Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI], we are saddened by the impasse which has developed in the case of Fr. Tony Flannery. The clarifications issued by Fr. Tony since his Press Conference last Sunday, in our view, only serve to highlight the apparent intransigence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in its dealings with priests who express an opinion contrary to that of the Congregation.
The ACI is a new association comprised of committed Irish Catholics who are deeply concerned about the future survival of our Church. We have observed quietly, over the past decade in particular, as the reputation of our Church has been gravely undermined by one damaging revelation after another. These were revelations, in the main, connected to scandalous behaviour by priests and religious, the impact of which was significantly exacerbated by – using an extremely charitable interpretation – the extraordinary ineptitude and subservience of the Irish Hierarchy. One is tempted to pose the question where was the CDF while these scandals were being grossly mis-managed by the Irish bishops? We are not aware of an individual Irish bishop being summoned to Rome to explain his actions throughout these traumatic years for our Church.
The management of Fr. Tony’s case by comparison bears all the hallmarks of the ruthless ‘efficiency’ traditionally associated with the CDF, particularly in their dealings with priests and religious who show any tendency to question the Church authorities. Many Irish Catholics who care deeply about the survival of our Church are no longer prepared to quietly accept our priests being subjected to a disciplinary process which appears to be totally lacking in any fairness and balance – the fundamental characteristics of any system of investigation which has justice as its ultimate aim. If this is an inaccurate description of the procedures used currently by the CDF in their dealing with Fr. Tony, and indeed other Irish Priests, clarification of the process being followed could contribute significantly to alleviating the anxiety felt by concerned Irish Catholics in regard to, what is perceived by many, as the unjust treatment of our priests.
We are praying and hoping that constructive dialogue between Fr. Tony and the CDF is still possible. Such dialogue, if approached in the right spirit, has the potential to resolve this impasse. We, therefore, urge you to listen to the opinions of those who have expressed views in favour of a more just approach to dealing with our priests who speak out as Fr. Tony has. As you are well aware we have a shortage of priests in our country and we can ill afford to lose the services of priests like Fr. Tony who have given a life-time of diligent and committed service to our people.
We acknowledge that your role is a very challenging one, particularly given the damage inflicted on our Church in recent decades. The consequences of this damage will not be overcome or reversed unless we all work in unison towards a new style of Church in Ireland. We as an emerging association of committed catholics are ready to play our part in the reform and renewal of the Irish Church in the years ahead in partnership with our priests and bishops. Every crisis, no matter how grave the issues involved, invariably offers opportunities for new beginnings. We believe and pray that ‘new beginnings’ will surface for our Church from a resolution of this issue.
Association of Catholics in Ireland