16Dec Unity must not be confused with uniformity

Dear Editor,

We have only to read the New Testament to see that its teaching never justifies the gratuitous exclusion of people from membership of the gathering of believers that we call the Christian Church. That is not the way in which Jesus behaved; nor should his followers. Cardinal William Levada had no right to accuse Fr Tony Flannery of heresy – a word that can have dire consequences in today’s Catholic Church (IC 7/11/13).

We are talking about the Church of Jesus Christ, not a military regiment where you are excluded if you do not conform to narrow-minded and arbitrary rules. We often wonder why so many men and women have left the Catholic Church or refuse to enter it today. Cardinal Levada’s unwarranted accusation of heresy against a good priest like Fr Tony Flannery is a plain illustration of why the institutional Catholic Church is in grave need of reform.

I have retired from a lifetime of studying and teaching theology in a university. There are conservatives and liberals in the Catholic Church; and I freely recognise that each has a contribution to make to a properly-functioning Church. What I cannot accept is that the conservative view has the power to declare itself to be the only allowable view, and to impose it upon more liberally-minded Catholics in the name of orthodoxy. Unity should never be confused with uniformity.

Christians are all bound to the tenets and values of the Gospel and to the classical Creeds of the Church; but we should recognise that differences in matters that do not belong to the essence of Catholic faith can legitimately vary, and that these differences enrich rather than threaten the values of Church life. Some Catholics place heavy emphasis on the need for conformity to the rules and regulations imposed by one party in the Church. I have read traditionalist statements that were vicious in their condemnation of fellow Catholics who were trying to make their faith intelligible to modern men and women. These people obviously regard themselves as good Catholics. They need to give some attention to being good Christians.

Cardinal Newman (soon to be canonised) wrote to his friend Bishop William Ullathorne of Birmingham during the First Vatican Council, complaining about the aggressively conservative party at the Council: “Why should an aggressive insolent faction be allowed to ‘make the heart of the just to mourn, whom the Lord hath not made sorrowful?’ Why can’t we be left alone, when we have pursued peace, and thought no evil?”

This noble sentiment from a distinguished Catholic can be applied with justice to the case of Fr Flannery and Cardinal Levada. Why can we not recognise that Church unity is always to be distinguished from the sort of uniformity which demands that Catholics should all think in the same way about the riches of their faith? One does not have to agree with an attitude or viewpoint in order to recognise its right to be freely expressed within the fold of the one Church.

Let’s be very clear about a most important matter: people like Cardinal Levada have every right to express their opinions. So do those who differ from him. Traditionalists, however, have no right to invoke their institutional power to punish those who hold views that they regard as heretical, in spite of the fact that those views do not belong to the essence of the Faith. Differences enrich rather than threaten the unity of the Church. Heresy is a dangerous word to brandish in circumstances that call for love and tolerance, as they are understood in the Gospel.

Yours etc.,

Fr Gabriel Daly OSA.

10 Responses

  1. Adam Peter Conroy

    I agree that “conservative” catholics could sometimes benefit from a more compassionate approach.
    I do think that at the same time liberal minded Catholics don’t have the right to impose their specific ideas upon those of us who have more traditional views. I have seen this happen often with priests who express support of certain viewpoints or lack of support for certain viewpoints or who merely enforce their theology on whole groups of people: They could be a superior who abuses his power as Prior/Abott, a priest who is reluctant to help certain members of the congregation because of their different views or a priest who promotes his personal views and opinions through his homilies.

    I’ve seen priests do all of these things and in my experience liberal catholics are often more closed minded than their “conservative” counterparts.

  2. Gene Carr

    It is rare indeed to hear or see any so-called ‘conservative’ take issue with differences of opinion about mere “rules and regulations”. Surely the issue is really about what pertains to “the essence of the Faith”. Where conservatives (alas for labels) take issue with such as Fr Daly is the liberal penchant for treating the Magisterium of the Church as simply expressing one set of “views” among others. When Cardinal Lavada questions the publicly expressed views of a priest about the very nature of the priesthood, and thence the nature of the Eucharist, surely he is acting with good authority to protect that which is indeed of the “essence of the Faith”. Of course every individual including Fr Flannery has every right to their opinions and integrity of conscience. But equally, surely the Church in her teaching and pastoral capacity given to her by her Founder has every right to determine who shall or shall not preach and minister publicly in her name.

  3. Donal Dorr

    Gabriel Daly writes with his customary courage, vigour, and clarity. Well done. Tony Flannery has clarified his views about priesthood in the early Church and I cannot see how they could reasonably be thought to be heretical.

  4. Nuala O'Driscoll

    Gene @2.
    The ‘essence of faith’ does not need protection given that the ‘essence of faith’ Himself refused protection. Jesus of Nazareth walked purposefully to his death, ‘he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped’. Also he challenged the Magisterium of the Jewish religion of his time and castigated the authorities for the harsh laws they imposed on people. By healing the woman with the issue of blood he not only cured her ailment he allowed her not to be excluded from the temple. The authorities did not determine that Jesus preach or administer, he followed his conscience and did what he had to do. Fr Daly and Fr Flannery need to keep preaching and ministering and keep taking risks like and for Jesus.

  5. Kevin Conroy

    The silencing of Fr. Flannery involves not only theological issues but moral issues about how it was done. And if that process is legal, that is an ongoing scandal.

  6. Peter Shore

    The writer is correct to say that the New Testament never justifies *gratuitous* exclusion from the Church. It’s MUCH more serious than that. In Jesus’s own words, Matthew 18:15-18 says:
    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

    Are we to suppose that Jesus’s outrage that someone would refuse to listen *even* to the Church (!) is an imposition “upon more liberally-minded Catholics in the name of orthodoxy”?

  7. Bob Hayes

    Is there any chance that people will stop using ludicrously exaggerated hyperbole such as ‘the silencing of Fr Flannery’?
    .
    Bishop Oscar Romero was silenced by bullets, Bishop St John Fisher was silenced by an axe. Fr Tony Flannery continues to write and give interviews: he is not silenced. Please do not trivialise the shedding of blood by the Church’s martyrs by this ostentatious and wholly incorrect use of the word ‘silenced’.

  8. John Collins

    Thank you Gabriel .. It is so good to hear a voice such as yours being raised to keep Tony’s story alive. We have not forgotten you Tony… Wishing you and all a Happy Christmas .. I pray for Good News in the New Year from the real church in Rome.. Fr John Collins

  9. Mary O Vallely

    And a happy Christmas to you, Bob Hayes @7! Whatever about the terms, silencing, censuring, censoring etc; they should not have to be used at all among thinking adults who should be allowed to have their books published (and for sale to other thinking adults) or their voices heard so that healthy debate can continue. We may differ in small things but we all believe in the Christmas message of love, hope, faith and charity so I’ll say again, a very happy Christmas to you and to all whose presence has graced these threads this last year and helped keep faith and hope alive that a more open and honest church is just around the corner.

  10. Paddy Ferry

    I would like to say that I certainly share Mary OV’s view of Bob Hayes @7. I am sure virtually everyone who contributes to this site and who supports Tony, in his suffering, will too.
    I would also like to wish all our friends on this site a very happy Christmas and every good wish for 2014. Thank you all for the thought-provoking discourse we have had in 2013 and I’m sure it will continue in 2014.
    I do feel indebted especially to those who continue to educate us and stimulate us to think especially Seán O’Conaill, Seamus Ahearne, Joe O’Leary, Eddie, Pádraig McCarthy and Brendan and I hope Brendan is well on the way to recovery.

    PS. I was home in Donegal last weekend for my mother’s anniversary Mass and I decided to do a little survey — a very, very unscientific survey, I should add. I enquired of some people I know — among whom were university graduates — if they had completed “the” Survey. Not only had nobody completed it, nobody had even heard of it. Makes you think!