10Dec ACP in correspondence with Pope Francis, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Archbishop Eamon Martin to express the concern of our association for the plight of Fr Tony Flannery.

In recent times the leadership of the ACP, wrote to Pope Francis, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Archbishop Eamon Martin to express the concern of our association for the plight of Fr Tony Flannery.

We publish the correspondence, below.

1.

Moygownagh,
Ballina,
Co. Mayo.
Ireland.
September 11, 2014.

His Holiness, Pope Francis,
00120 Via del Pellegrino
Citta del Vaticano
Rome,
Italy.

Dear Pope Francis,

This letter is written on behalf of the 1000 plus members of the Association of Irish Priests in Ireland.

We write on behalf of our brother priest, Fr Tony Flannery. As you are probably aware, his superior general was ordered by the CDF to remove him from priestly ministry and was advised that he can only be restored to same on condition that he signs and publishes certain statements. Fr. Flannery is unable, for reasons of conscience, to sign such statements and could only do so if he were to tell lies.

Fr. Flannery has been a Redemptorist priest since 1974. He has worked in the demanding ministry of Parish Missions for 40 years, touching the lives of countless ‘broken’ people and countless ‘lost sheep’.

In the view of a great many Catholics in Ireland he has given a lifetime of service to the People of God.

We are aware that you have stated that in the event of receiving a reprimanding letter from the CDF one should read it, put it aside and continue with one’s daily ministry. Fr. Flannery’s superiors have not allowed him to do this. It is also significant that the CDF have never communicated directly with Fr. Flannery or afforded him an opportunity to explain his position and put the statements that the CDF objected to in the context in which they were written. Furthermore, a highly respected Irish Augustinian theologian, Gabriel Daly has recently written that Fr. Flannery’s views are “both historically and theologically unobjectionable”.

We believe that the treatment of Fr. Flannery at the hands of the CDF and the manner in which the CDF acted have caused further disillusionment among Irish Catholics and have made the work of priests even more difficult. It is viewed as yet another example of a Church that is more concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy than with the compassion of Jesus Christ.

We respectfully request that you give attention to this matter and reverse the judgement of the CDF.

The leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests

Seamus Ahearne, OSA;
Gerard Alwill, PP;
Brendan Hoban, PP;
Seán McDonagh, SSC;
Gerry O¹Connor, CSsR.

2.

Moygownagh
Ballina,
Co. Mayo.
Ireland.

September 11, 2014.

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller,
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
The Vatican,
Rome,
Italy.

Your Eminence,

This letter is written on behalf of the 1000 plus members of the Association of Irish Priests in Ireland. Forgive us for saying very bluntly that it is written in sadness, in frustration and in anger.

Our esteemed colleague in the priesthood, Tony Flannery, has been ‘silenced’ by the Congregation of the Faith, is forbidden to work as a priest and has been placed in a limbo situation ­ displaced from priesthood and his priest-colleagues.

We believe, before God and Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, whose priesthood we feel privileged to share, that the action taken against Fr Flannery is unjust, unwarranted and unwise.

It is unjust because what Fr Tony has written is not heretical, as respected theologians like the Irish Augustinian, Gabriel Daly, have explicitly stated.

It is unjust because what Fr Tony was communicating were ideas already being raised by many in our Church about ministry and priesthood.

It is unjust because Fr Tony was writing in a popular magazine, and was not writing systematic theology with the benefit of detailed clarification through the use of foot-notes and references.

It is unjust because the process and procedures which led to his suspension were devoid of any real dialogue, were inadequate in dealing fairly and effectively with the situation, and in the public mind in Ireland, are a scandal for those who follow the Gospel of Jesus.

It is unjust because those of us who know Fr Tony and the thousands and thousands who have been helped by his preaching on parish missions for over 40 years will attest that he is not a heretic.

We believe too that the action taken against Fr Tony is unwarranted and unwise.

It is unwarranted and unwise because instead of enhancing the credibility of the Catholic Church in Ireland it has further damaged that credibility.

It is unwarranted and unwise because it flies in the face of the
expectations of our people who were scandalised by the cover-up of the recent clerical abuse failures and the effective silencing of those who sought to uncover the truth for the sake of the children who suffered so much and the Church which was so damaged.

It is unwarranted and unwise because it further undermines the spirit and morale of priests in Ireland, already at a very low ebb due to the sexual abuse scandals, an ever-increasing work load and the absence of new recruits.

It is unwarranted and unwise because it makes the task of evangelising in Ireland much more difficult.

It is unwarranted and unwise because the priesthood of Tony Flannery and people like him is badly needed in the Irish Church at present.

As leaders of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, founded to bring fresh energy and life to the Catholic faith in Ireland, we believe that it is the interests of truth, of justice and of the future of the Irish Church that a speedy resolution be found to this present problem. It is our belief that the hope given to our Church by Pope Francis, and emphasised in The Joy of the Gospel, is being lost by the manner in which Fr Tony has been
treated.

We ask, we beg, that the pastoral touch of the Church of Our Lord and Saviour Christ be applied to Fr Tony Flannery and others caught up in similar situations.

The leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests

Seamus Ahearne, OSA;
Gerard Alwill, PP;
Brendan Hoban, PP;
Seán McDonagh, SSC;
Gerry O¹Connor, CSsR.

REPLY

I am writing to acknowledge your letter to the Prefect of this Congregation, dated 16th September, 2014. I am grateful to you for taking the time to share your concerns. I do assure you that the issues you raised in your letter have been and will continue to be given due consideration.

Without entering into the details of the case, I do, nonetheless, recognise your concern for the best interests of Fr Flannery, and so I wish to take this opportunity to confirm that this Congregation and Fr Brehl, C.Ss.R., the Superior General of the Redemptorist Order, have undertaken every legitimate measure according to the norms laid down by the Church to arrive at an equitable resolution of Fr Flannery’s situation.
At this time I would also promise you that I am united with you in praying for Fr Flannery and for a favourable outcome to this situation.

Thank you again for your letter.

I remain, yours sincerely in Christ,

Mgr Damiano Marzotto,
Under-Secretary

3.

Moygownagh
Ballina,
Co. Mayo.
Ireland.

September 11, 2014.

Archbishop Eamon Martin
Ara Coeli,
Cathedral Road,
Armagh, BT61 7QY.
Northern Ireland.

Dear Archbishop Martin,

As you know, for some time now, great unease has been expressed by the 1000-plus members of the Association of Irish Priests and, we believe, by many other clergy and considerable numbers of Irish Catholics, at the suspension of our colleague, Fr Tony Flannery, the manner of that suspension and not least the repercussions of that decision on the Irish Church and on the work of Irish priests.

We have taken the unprecedented step of writing to Pope Francis and to Cardinal Muller, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because we believe that the action taken against Fr Flannery is unjust, unwarranted and unwise and in everyone’s interest, not least the good of the Irish Church, we believe that the decision to suspend Fr Flannery should be reversed.

With every good wish,

Seamus Ahearne, OSA;
Gerard Alwill, PP;
Brendan Hoban, PP;
Seán McDonagh, SSC;
Gerry O¹Connor, CSsR.

REPLY

Ara Coeli,
Cathedral Road,
Armagh, BT61 7QY.
Northern Ireland.

Dear Seamus, Gerard, Brendan, Seán & Gerry,

Thank you for your letter of 11 September, enclosing the letters to His Holiness, Pope Francis and Cardinal Muller regarding Fr Tony Flannery.

I have been following Fr Tony’s story in the media. I hope and pray that some way can be found of reconciling whatever difficulties remain.

With every blessing and kindest regards,

+ Eamon Martin

8 Responses

  1. Paddy Ferry

    I want to applaud the leadership team of ACP for taking this initiative. I would look especially to Archbishop Eamon Martin and the Irish Bishops’ Conference. It is surely within their competence and authority to now make this an issue with Rome — especially in this new Franciscan era– and to finally bring an end to the disgraceful mistreatment of Tony Flannery.

  2. Mary Vallely

    I echo Paddy Ferry’s comment @1 though in a way, Fr Tony Flannery has turned a negative into a positive. The Holy Spirit continues to use him and perhaps indeed this is a new mission for him. I would be more concerned about Fr Sean Fagan who is older and in frail health and who doesn’t have the higher media profile Fr Tony Flannery has. That is a grave injustice too, the silencing of Fr Sean Fagan. There are others too who have been marginalised and surely it goes against the whole spirit of Pope Francis’ approach of encouraging openness and courage in speaking out. There is still that fear of speaking out from the heart, isn’t there, among many of the ordained.
    I am pleased to see the response from my own PP in Armagh which is warmer in tone than such responses in the past. Even getting a response is a step forward from the days when letters and requests for meetings were ignored. (What a weapon that is, to ignore someone. It comes across as incredibly mean spirited, I believe.) Perhaps +Eamon will do more than pray and will use his influence to move things forward himself. In the meantime, I hope Fr Tony Flannery takes heart in the fact that he has been helping to plant and to nourish seeds in the USA. I wish him and Fr Sean Fagan well, good health, mental, spiritual, physical, a full life, hope-filled. 🙂

  3. Pól Ó Duibhir

    I’m glad Mary Vallely brought up the treatment of Fr. Seán Fagan.
    .
    I am an unbeliever but have found his work inspiring, particularly the way he has redefined sin in the context of personal responsibility.
    .
    The man is a godsend to the Church, which, unfortunately, has treated him disgracefully.
    .
    It is hard to see how it could make amends at this late stage in his life. It might, however, give others hope were they to reinstate him.
    .

  4. Mícheál

    Unfortunately, the responses of Mgr Damiano Marzotto and Eamon Martin can only be read as PFOs. The leadership of the Irish church clearly possesses neither the courage nor the the will to resolve the situation. Warmth in tone is no substitute for resolute defiance in the face of injustice. One can only dream of what might happen if the Archbishop of Armagh (or indeed any Irish bishop or congregational Provincial) were to publicly defend Fr. Tony Flannery and call on Rome to act justly and swiftly. This will, of course, remain but a dream as long as spineless bishops see themselves as line managers for Rome rather than leaders of their dioceses and spend so much time looking over their shoulders for fear of what Rome or, God forbid, Charlie Brown might think if they strayed outside the boundary of orthodox group-think. And still they wonder why people are disillusioned?

  5. Eddie Finnegan

    With Paddy, Mary and Pól above I congratulate the ACP for this initiative and agree, too, that it’s long after time that penitent restitution be made to Fr Sean Fagan by both the CDF and his Marist Order. The grudging admission last Spring that no further action would be taken against Fr Sean merits one cheer, not three. Time for a new book:”Whatever Happened to Goodness and Mercy at the Vatican?” Well, Pope Saint John Paul II made Yves Congar a Cardinal-Deacon on his deathbed in his 91st year. Should we wait and see?

    Like Mary, I find Archbishop Eamon Martin’s reply to “Dear Seamus, Gerard, Brendan, Seán and Gerry” a welcome note – not, of course, the first time we’ve had civilised first-name courtesies from Ara Coeli, but let’s hope the promise of “hope and prayers” results in more pro-active leadership rather than just a passive reading about it in the media. I hope Eamon has read it in Tony’s own words, even if he couldn’t find the volume in Veritas. I leave it to Mícheál@4 to beat up the Nuncio and the rest of the Bishops.

    I had expected to see a transcript of a late night or early morning call from Casa Santa Marta to Moygownah, or directly to Fr Tony. Now, that would be a call worth making, Your Holiness.

    Meanwhile, we must wish Msgr Damiano Marzotto every good wish in his career. He seems like a good and faithful civil servant, unlikely to put a foot wrong on the ladder.

  6. Tom Finnigan

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,
    Reading Luke’s account of the birth of Christ! I am haunted by these words in the Benedictus of Simeon about giving light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death and guiding feet in the way of peace. I guess such words summarise the vocations of men like Tony Flannery. Light and peace are key concepts at this time of year. They are foundation words in the good news we proclaim. Apply some light, you Archbishops,Cardinals and Pope. Give a kiss of peace to your brother Tony so that we people can be delivered from the hands of our enemies and see you and him as prophets of the most high preparing a way for The Lord.
    Happy Christmas!
    Tom Finnigan

  7. Brendan Cafferty

    I too wish to commend the latest initiative of the ACP is championing the cause the Fr. Tony.This man has done no wrong,instead he was subject to a sort of inquisition by eagle eyed watchers in Rome,or heaven forbid,some home grown ones nearer home ! Great that they had time to parse every word he uttered while at other times they were covering up for priests who brought the church into disrepute-something Tony Flannery was never guilty of. Like Micheal above I too wish some of our Bishops spoke out on his behalf-what effect might a few words on his behalf from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin have. Martin of Dublin has not been afraid to speak out on other matters and indeed he often ploughed a lone furrow and was not always flavour of the month with his brother Bishops for so doing.

    What a great Christmas present it would be if Rome lifted its ban on Tony and indeed on other good priests who have done no wrong and indeed would a continuing asset to the Church. Time is of the essence-just look at how fast things happen nowadays in everyday life.

  8. John McEneaney

    I would be interested to know if a reply has been received from Pope Francis, or, indeed, if he has even seen the letter or if it has found its way into the “long grass” of some civil servant’s “oubliette drawer”?

    The missionary zeal of the ACP and the Christianity of Fr. Tony and Fr. Peter McVerry (who awakened me to the “God of Compassion”) have helped me to continue to see Christ above the careerism and power politics of the CDF and the apparent lack of courage of the Irish Hierarchy. I am reminded of Scripture and Jesus’s courage in standing up to the “authorities”, and the similar self-sacrifice of Fr. Tony and the others who have been “silenced”.

    If the “silencing” wasn’t such an affront to Christianity and even common decency, it would be ironic that more people than before are hearing from and about the “silenced” priests.


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