Irish Priest’s Refusal to Be Silenced Is a Beacon of Hope for Church Renewal


As I see it, one of the greatest hindrances to progress on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church is not just the intransigence of many hierarchical leaders, but the fact that many “mid-level” leaders do not speak their mind about their support for such issues.  The fear of retaliation, no doubt, is strong, but it has always been a puzzle why so many so often give into this fear.

Father Tony Flannery

Father Tony Flannery

An inspiring story out of Ireland gives a shining example of one priest who has not succumbed to such fear.  The New York Times  reports:

“The Rev. Tony Flannery, 66, who was suspended by the Vatican last year, said he was told by the Vatican that he would be allowed to return to ministry only if he agreed to write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality.”

Fr. Flannery’s words, I hope, will give courage to many other church leaders:

“ ‘How can I put my name to such a document when it goes against everything I believe in,’ he said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘If I signed this, it would be a betrayal not only of myself but of my fellow priests and lay Catholics who want change. I refuse to be terrified into submission.’ ”

What is inspiring is not only his bravery, but his willingness to expose the fear tactics that are often used at higher levels in our church.

A member of the Redemptorists, Fr. Flannery is also a leader of Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests, which the New York Times  describes as ” a group formed in 2009 to articulate the views of rank-and-file members of the clergy.”  He commented on what he sees as the scare tactics of the current papacy:

“He believes the church’s treatment of him, which he described as a ‘Spanish Inquisition-style campaign,’ is symptomatic of a definite conservative shift under Pope Benedict XVI.

“ ‘I have been writing thought-provoking articles and books for decades without hindrance,’ he said. ‘This campaign is being orchestrated by a secretive body that refuses to meet me. Surely I should at least be allowed to explain my views to my accusers.’ ”

Fr. Flannery will be holding a press conference later today, and so more news may be forthcoming about this story.  Bondings 2.0 will be on the alert for any new developments and will share them with you.

Along with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who was recently dismissed from the Maryknoll community for his support of women’s ordination, Fr. Flannery is a beacon of hope for those who work and pray for a renwal of our church’s approach to gender and sexuality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


0 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    I think its great!! Start an independent catholic church there. I went to church yesterday and the average age was 65. Our small town parish will fold soon. The priest serves 5 parishes and he looked exhausted.

  2. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    Francis, you know that I’ve been pushing for a uniting of LGBTQ’s and their allies who are practicing catholics—60+%?–so that we could achieve a minimal peace with the official church.

    We need a loving dialogue to establish a 21st century way of dissent– a move way beyond the excommunications, damnations, firings, removals from ministry, removal of health benefits, total subservient silence. A move beyond the “all our children” compromise. These things could not happen–such as the oath I heard today at the installation of our new pastor coercing him to act against his conscience.

    It is unbelievable that people who have figured out sexuality could be cowtowed by threats of hell-fire for being disobedient. Just being so absolutely silent as MLK says, is to come to the end of our lives, to be worse than our enemies. Hey, I know I’m pretty much alone. I’m virtually a one person team here in the diocese and elsewhere. It is slow and fraught with worry about where the line of love and the commitment to conscience rests. But I know silence and smiling is not enough.

    Walking away–which I have done–or allowing us to be thrown out–is no longer necessary. The momentum has been built, the case has been made. Now we need to stand, or sit, for what we and our enemies do have in common, the belief, “thou shalt love thy neighbor…” No more arguing points. No more name calling. And no more putting the blame solely on the hierarchy. There are multitudes of Catholics who support the “conservative” streak in Catholic practice today. We need to embrace them and foster a solid bonding between dissenters.

    Yes the Fr. Flannery’s, Bourgeois will contribute to the momentum. But with the great numbers of others within the church, we can achieve victory over the neo-medievalists and find peace and love in dissent. is a blogsite to hammer this out. Thanks, New Ways, and all the other groups for the work and the lives you give for truth and justice.

  3. John K Riordan
    John K Riordan says:

    I wish to point out that the NYT article states that the Vatican’s main complaint is Fr. Tony’s published views on ministerial priesthood. Tony believes that it probably emerged out of a power struggle in the early church. I have no opinion on his hypothesis. I know, and anyone familiar with the New Testament church knows, that there was no such thing as a ministerial priesthood in earliest Christianity. It was a historical development. A priest or any Catholic scholar ought to be able–without fear of censure from the Vatican–to express a view that the ministerial priesthood is NOT a constitutive dimension of the gospel or the community of faith. Ministerial priesthood is a tradition which CAN be discarded for some other paradigm of ecclesial leadership. This may be necessary to solve the dysfunctionalities of the Catholic church. My concern with Fr. Tony is that he’s part of an escalating tension in the European church which could lead to schism. I don’t see an independent Catholic church as an answer. I hope schism can be avoided.

  4. Janice Poss
    Janice Poss says:

    Yes, ‘Ministerial priesthood (ordos)’ were a Medieval development that systematically ‘wrote’ women out of the picture. Gary Macy has written several books aboutthis and also Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, Karen Torjesen and Rosaemary Radford Ruether. Now we certianly do not want schism, but we want a rethinking of theological knowledge that puts in particularity of all voices, not just a ‘Male’ privileged prescriptive perspective that silences all other voces as being ‘less than’ a norm that was intstituted from an all-male power play back in the day that systematically silenced all other voices and groups as abnormal!!

    The more priests begin to stand up to this, as Hans Kung has said in an article from The Guardian last October,”In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Küng, who had close contact with the pope when the two worked together as young theologians, described the church as an “authoritarian system” with parallels to Germany’s Nazi dictatorship. “The unconditional obedience demanded of bishops who swear their allegiance to the pope when they make their holy oath is almost as extreme as that of the German generals who were forced to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler,” he said.

    It is not faith, Christ, or belief that is being questioned here, but the organizational invidious monism of the worldview that is vertical and not horizontal and needs to change on a global scale.

    Those voices of feminism and the marginalized are no longer silent as we are equal Imago Dei to those in the Vatican and always have been; however, we want our voices and hearts heard, not silenced because we here to correct the errors in circular reasoning–that hermeneutical circle that only just keeps going round and round and never gets anywhere, but reiterating the incorrectness of its non-evolving thinking that no longer holds for most of us including ‘thinking’ clergy and religious!

    • John K Riordan
      John K Riordan says:

      Janice, thanks for your thoughtful and illuminating reply. I’ll follow up on your reading suggestions. I agree with Kung that the Catholic church is an authoritarian system, and in many respects a fundamentalist religion, a pathology of the mind which thrives on the circular reasoning you speak of. One way to break the howling feedback loops is to turn accepted ways of thinking upside down. Eq. I recently read a critique of women’s ordination based upon an unarguably orthodox theology of the church as feminine, i.e. the Bride of Christ who receives the Bridgegroom. But the author fails to look ahead, to theologize from the standpoint of eschatological hope, our belief that the Bride of Christ is progressively being remade into the image of the Bridegroom. We look ahead to a time when the feminine Body of Christ perfectly manifests his glory. Women priests can help us recover and re-image this eschatological hope.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] for peace and women’s rights in the Church, Rev. Charles Curran, a U.S. moral theologian, Rev. Tony Flannery, CSsR., a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Ireland, and Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, a […]

  2. […] speaking at the debate in support of a positive future for the church was Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery, who was relieved of priestly ministry because of his support for progressive reform topics, […]

  3. […] Fr. Tony Flannery, who rejected the Vatican’s attempts to silence him earlier this year for leading church reform efforts in Ireland, is making […]

  4. […] Three days ago, we reported the case of Fr. Tony Flannery, a priest in Ireland who said he will refuse to be silenced by the Vatican on a variety of issues in the Church, including homosexuality.  We applauded his spirit of courage and fortitude. […]

  5. […] Three days ago, we reported the case of Fr. Tony Flannery, a priest in Ireland who said he will refuse to be silenced by the Vatican on a variety of issues in the Church, including homosexuality.  We applauded his spirit of courage and fortitude. […]

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