Superior General regrets Father Tony Flannery's defiance of Vatican

Wednesday 23 January 2013 20.05
Father Tony Flannery said the Vatican has threatened him with excommunication
Father Tony Flannery said the Vatican has threatened him with excommunication

The Superior General of the Redemptorist Fathers has said he deeply regrets Father Tony Flannery's defiance of the Vatican's order silencing him.

In a statement, Father Michael Brehl said he "earnestly invites" Fr Flannery to renew efforts to find an agreed solution to the concerns raised about him by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Meanwhile, senior Vatican sources have been quoted as saying there is no question of Fr Flannery facing excommunication.

Fr Brehl's statement follows last Sunday's claim by Fr Flannery that the Vatican has threatened him with excommunication because of his call for open discussion of women's ordination and other controversial issues in the Catholic Church.

He said all communications from the Vatican on the year-long stand-off had been channelled through his Superior General in Rome, Fr Brehl.

He blamed the breakdown in the dialogue with the Vatican on the hard line adopted by Archbishop Gerhard Muller.

Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Muller as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in July.

In a statement on the Order's website, Fr Brehl says the Congregation raised concerns about some of Fr Flannery's writings last January.

He describes them as "ambiguous regarding fundamental areas of Catholic doctrine, including the priesthood, the nature of the church, and the Eucharist".

The Superior General also recalled that the Irish priest was instructed to undertake a period of prayer and theological reflection to clarify his positions on the matters concerned.

Fr Brehl adds that during this period, Fr Flannery was instructed not to grant interviews or make public statements.

He was also told to withdraw from the leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests, "especially since the priesthood was one of the matters on which he had been asked to clarify his position".

But in November, Fr Flannery played a prominent public role in the association's annual general meeting.

And last Sunday in Dublin he broke his involuntary year-long silence by speaking to journalists about his case.

Fr Brehl says he deeply regrets Fr Flannery's "recent actions" and he "earnestly invites" Fr Flannery to renew efforts to find an agreed solution to the concerns raised by Archbishop Muller's Congregation.

He also asks the Irish Redemptorist Community to co-operate with his efforts to maintain and strengthen the Order's ties with Rome.

Following Fr Flannery's news conference, the community said that although it did not accept the priest's views on all matters, it understood and supported his efforts to listen to and articulate the views of people he met during the course of his ministry.

It also expressed immense regret that the church had not yet found a way to better engage with internal dissent while at the same time respecting the key responsibility and central role of the CDF.

No question of excommunication

Meanwhile, senior Vatican sources have been quoted as saying there is no question of Fr Flannery facing excommunication.

According to The Irish Catholic newspaper, senior sources in Rome have also insisted that the case hinges on whether or not the Redemptorist accepts the church's teaching on the nature of the priesthood.

The sources claim that the CDF has problems with Fr Flannery's contention in 2010 that he no longer believed that "the priesthood as we currently have it in the church originated with Jesus" or that Jesus designated "a special group of his followers as priests".

Fr Flannery went on to write at that time: "It is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda."

The newspaper says the sources in the Roman Curia have told it that the CDF wants Fr Flannery to specifically recant that statement and affirm that Christ instituted the church with a permanent hierarchical structure and that bishops are divinely-established successors to the apostles.