Two Catholic lay organisations and a number of prominent priests have criticised the Vatican's investigation of the Redemptorist author, Fr Tony Flannery, for his liberal views.

Referring to Pope Benedict's recent visit to Cuba, a leading member of the Association of Catholic Priests said Pope Benedict XVI could not ask the Cuban leadership to permit freedom of expression if he does not respect it within the Church.

Sources say that the Vatican began investigating Fr Tony Flannery two months ago. He has been prevented from contributing his monthly column to the "Reality" magazine. And his order, the Redemptorists, have been told to scrutinise both the Magazine and its editor, Fr Gerry Moloney's, output.

Cardinal William Levada's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has not explained its moves publicly, but for years Fr Flannery has opposed the Church's ban on artificial contraception and obligatory priestly celibacy.

The recent report by the Vatican's visitation here criticised what it called "fairly widespread" dissent.

The spokesman for the lay Catholic organisation, "Pobal" joined the "We are Church" group in opposing the Flannery investigation.

A co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Fr Sean McDonagh said the Vatican was showing no respect for people's rights and that Fr Flannery was committed to and competent at sharing the faith.

But the Dominican, Fr Bernard Treacy, who edits the journal "Doctrine and Life" expressed disappointment that so little was known about the Vatican investigation.