12Jan Personal reflection at the beginning of the New Year

Link to Interview with Tony Flannery on Mid West Radio

Personal reflection at the beginning of the New Year

It is quite a while since I have written anything in my blog. But now we have turned a new year, and even though I will be seventy three in two weeks time, there is still a sense, even if only a small one, of a new beginning.

The last few months of twenty nineteen contained two potentially significant happenings in my life.

First, the house I have been living in for the past eight years, since my “withdrawal from ministry” (to use the official Redemptorist phrase for what took place in my life in 2012) was sold, and now I am based back in my monastery. To be fair, I don’t spend much time there. I don’t find it easy. Living in the location where all the ministerial work is going on has brought me back face to face with the reality of my situation, in a way that living apart made it possible to remain distant from. 

The second happening was very interesting. A small group of people, mainly lay, got together and approached the Redemptorist authorities with a view to initiating a discussion that might lead to some way of breaking through the impasse of my “withdrawal”. One meeting has taken place, with a promise of further discussion later this month. I am extremely grateful to these people for the time and effort they are putting into this, and it remains to be seen where it might lead us.

As we begin the new year, I have a sense that this could be a defining year in my life, though what that might entail is not at all clear to me at the moment. The first five or six years after the “withdrawal” were busy, and in many ways satisfying years. I was very involved in the work for Church Reform; I travelled a lot, and spoke a great deal. I had plenty of energy for what I was doing, and was hopeful that real change would happen. 

I am still hopeful of change, and continue to be impressed by Pope Francis, but I don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for the work of reform that I had. Is that increasing age, or is it a sense of the futility of it all? I am not sure. Seeing the lack of anything really worthwhile happening in the Irish Church is depressing. More and more I am hearing stories of weekend Masses being cut, of parishes being effectively amalgamated, of priests covering numerous churches. So much of this is being decided exclusively by bishops and priests, with often no consultation with the local faithful, and absolutely no effort made to look at alternatives to our outdated and failed form of ministry. It is the clerical church still operating as if nothing had happened, as if there was no Vatican Council and as if Pope Francis had never come with his talk of collaboration and synodality.

In the international Church I see how some people who were closely involved in my “withdrawal” have been shown up to be a lot less white than they presented themselves, and some of them have become more oppositional, even ‘heretical’ (if I can judge by the standards they implied in my case) than I or my censored colleagues in the Irish Church ever were.

I am inclined to believe that if there is to be any change in my situation it will happen this year. If not, then I will have to accept that things will remain as they are for whatever amount of life I have left. I can cope, I think, with not ministering as a priest any more. At my age I wouldn’t be doing much anyway. But living within an institution that acts in such a cavalier and unjust fashion, and is quite happy to sit with that injustice and do nothing about it, will be the difficult part.

A friend of mine texts me regularly, and always ends the text with “sending you light”. I will be glad of whatever light there is, and that the Divine Spirit, which I do believe is within me and in all of creation, will be the guiding light of this year, not just for myself, but for those I care for, and for all of you who read this blog.

7 Responses

  1. Joseph Poole

    thank you for your honesty. Your honesty is what gives hope, so, I would encourage you to keep writing, as I love to be inspired by your honesty. Your experience is so rich, the quality of your intelligence will help the Church we love to take it to the next level; and God will take care of us in that process. Even the worst of experiences can be the foundations of a better future. Joe Poole CSSp

  2. Seamus Ahearne

    “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (Any variation will do). Henry II and Beckett 1170.

    Tony’s piece is poignant and weary. Might the Nuncio/the Irish Hierarchy/ the CDF/Francis/the Redemptorists realise by now that it is time to rid the local Church in Ireland (our Community of love, faith and hope) of this abscess on the Church body? It is so embarrassing. How can a Community, who claim Christ as its leader, allow this nonsense continue?

    If ‘calling’ Tony back into ministry isn’t done for the obvious and correct reason; might it not be done, simply to rid us of the bother and trouble that the treatment of Tony Flannery attracts?

    Seamus Ahearne osa

  3. Chris McDonnell

    I concluded my regular article in the Catholic Times this week with these few words.

    ‘Hope, purpose and promise should permeate the lives of Christian peoples. Our hope is sustained in our faith, our purpose defined by our baptism as we live out the promise of the Incarnation of God in the Christ-Child, taken one step at a time. As we begin a New Year so may we see the removal of the many walls, both real and figurative, that still divide us.’

    Let’s hope that the walls that have for so long excluded Tony and others from active ministry are finally taken down sometime soon.

  4. Donal Dorr

    Thanks, Tony, for this honest, refreshing, and ultimately hopeful message. Know that you are not forgotten.
    Donal

  5. Eugene Sheehan

    Tony, I join with your friend(s) in “sending you light”. I empathise with your frustration and discouragement – the injustice of it all! So many things are not in our control but your witness is a powerful influence on all of us who believe that “a change is gonna come!” It simply has to, there’s an inevitability about it all.
    Take heart that your greatest witness is not from anything you may do but from who you are and the integrity of your humanity. May God bless and keep you always strong in your perseverance.

  6. Joe O'Leary

    Looks like if you get wrongfooted by our strange and mystifying clerical system you can never be extricated, restored, and put back on your feet. Alleged thought-crime and the tyranny of gossip seems sufficient to generate such Kafkaesque situations as Tony records. Behind it all lies some bureaucrat’s cut-and-dried idea of theological orthodoxy, applied without discussion or transparency. I’ve just been reading a Spanish Jesuit, writing in 1999, Bernardino Llorca, who lauds the Inquisition for its success in purging Spain of Protestantism and of the plague of witchcraft. Conservative churchmen who are so hypersensitive to any suspicion of unorthodoxy among liberals are utterly unable to look critically on their own past performances, which has blemished the Gospel more than any liberals did.

  7. Ned Quinn

    Shortly after Tony was “silenced”, a number of people staged a protest demonstration outside the home of the Papal Nuncio. There was no meeting with or response from the then incumbent Mgr. Charles Brown. I believe he is now in Albania. Maybe the new Nuncio would be more amenable.

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