Is Tony Flannery really threatened with excommunication?
Some clarifications of stories that are doing the rounds in the media.
1. The Irish Catholic says that I am not threatened with excommunication.
In June of last year, 2012 I received a document from the CDF which contained the following paragraph:
“The Church’s canon law (c. 1044) calls a priest who has committed the delict of heresy ‘irregular for the exercise of orders received’, while canon 1364 says that ‘a heretic … incurs a latae sentientiae excommunication’. Before imposing the sanctions provided for in the law, it is the practice of the CDF to take steps to restore a priest to the faith, and to ensure that he is not in a state of contumacy regarding the position(s) he may have taken. Only should these remedies fail would the canonical penalties be required”
I am not a theologian, but to me that definitely reads like a threat. If the Vatican has now decided to withdraw that threat I would be very glad. Though I would be happier still if they allowed me to continue my ministry as a priest. But if that is the case I would like to get it in writing from the CDF, but this time on official paper and with a signature! Hearing it from that classic journalistic cliché of an ‘informed source’ telling the editor of a minor Irish newspaper is not totally convincing.
2. The second issue is what exactly the argument between me and the Vatican was about.
It is correct that at first it concerned a few sentences taken for various articles I had written in Reality Magazine over the years, to do with the origins of Church and priesthood. During the early part of last year I worked on this, and in June presented the following statement to the CDF through the head of the Redemptorists:
Since some concerns have been raised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over possible interpretations of articles I have written in the past few years. I respectfully take this opportunity to clarify my views and to offer the reassurance necessary to lay those concerns fully to rest. Such words as I have written were written in good faith with absolutely no intent whatever to imply anything contrary to the truths we are all obliged to hold by the divine and catholic faith to which I fully adhere and to which I have always adhered.
I believe and accept that the Eucharist was given to us by Christ Himself; that in the Eucharist we receive “the Bread of Life”, which is “the food of Eternal Life”. I not only believe and accept this; over nearly forty years of ministry I have come to know the reality of it through my faith experience and I have been privileged to offer witness to it through my priestly ministry.
I believe and accept that the Eucharist cannot be celebrated without a validly ordained minister.
I believe and accept that the origins of the Eucharist and the Priesthood can be found in the Last Supper, where, as Sacred Scripture tell us, Jesus gave the command to the Apostles gathered around the table to “Do this in memory of Me”.
I believe and accept that the call to Priesthood, indeed to all our Church’s ministries, comes from God through Jesus Christ.
I believe and accept that the Church has both the right and the duty to teach and preach the good news of salvation as promised by Jesus Christ and that we are reminded of this mission in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The decree on the Church’s Missionary activity tells us that the Church strives to preach the Gospel to all men, and that it is the duty of the successors of the Apostles to carry on this work. (cf ‘Ad Gentes’)
It is my hope that the clarity and intent of this letter will be accepted in full satisfaction of the queries raised.
Fr. Tony Flannery C. Ss. R.
This statement was accepted by Cardinal Levada, the then head of the CDF. I am told that the exact words he used were: “This is a fine statement”.
It was my understanding that this put the matter to bed, and would be published in Reality Magazine.
But in September the new head of the CDF, Archbishop Gerhart Meuller sent the following document:
Necessary Amendments to the Statement of Reverend Tony Flannery C.Ss.R.
The following additions should be incorporated by Fr. Flannery in his Statement, which is the basis of the article of clarification that he intends to publish:
1. Regarding the Church, Fr. Flannery should add to his article that he believes that Christ instituted the Church with a permanent hierarchical structure. Specifically, Fr. Flannery should state that he accepts the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, as found in Lumen Gentium n. 9-22, that the bishops are the divinely established successors of the apostles who were appointed by Christ; that, aided by the Holy Spirit, they exercise legitimate power to sanctify, teach and govern the People of God; that they constitute one Episcopal college together with the Roman Pontiff; and that in virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church, which he is always free to exercise.
2. Regarding the Eucharist, Fr. Flannery should add to his article that he believes that Christ instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper; that in the Eucharist, under the forms of bread and wine, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained; that the Eucharist is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross; and that only a validly ordained priests can validly celebrate the Eucharist.
3. Regarding his statement concerning the priesthood, Fr. Flannery should add to his article that he accepts that the Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and that the apostles did the same when they choose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry; and that the Church recognises herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself, and for this reason the ordination of women is not possible.
4. Furthermore, Fr. Flannery should state that he accepts the whole teaching of the Church, also in regard to moral issues.
Take note of nos. 3 & 4. These were new issues brought in at this point, – the question of women’s ordination and the ‘moral issues’. (In Church circles today that phrase most usually refers to sexual morality.
Up to this point I was happy to clarify my position, and give the Vatican the statement they desired, as I had done in June. But it was points 3 & 4 of this document that were the breaking point for me. And that is why I have stated clearly all this week that this is about the issues of womens’ ordination and sexual teaching. And I was told very clearly that the only way I would be allowed back into ministry would be to sign and publish this statement.
I hope this clear up the matter for those who are interested.