After ten years of being silenced by the Vatican, due in part for his support of marriage equality, Ireland’s Fr. Tony Flannery is calling for an independent review of the Vatican’s ruling.
Fr. Flannery was suspended from ministry by the Vatican in 2012. As a Redemptorist priest and co-founder of Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests, Flannery said that he had been “writing thought-provoking articles and books for decades without hindrance.” He believed the case was “orchestrated by a secretive body” that refused to meet with him. “Surely I should at least be allowed to explain my views to my accusers,” he said.
Today, Fr. Flannery is pushing for exactly that: a chance to follow his conscience and continue his ministry without magisterial gatekeeping.
With growing support for LGBTQ ministry, especially from Pope Francis, Fr. Flannery recently told The Irish Times:
“’I would like the process by which my case was dealt with by the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) to be reviewed, preferably by somebody independent, who has a knowledge of civil, along with canon law.
“‘I continue to carry a grievance that I wasn’t even given the most basic of human rights in my dealing with that body. . .I don’t think that my request for an independent review is too much to ask, from an institution that proclaims that it stands for truth, justice and love.'”
He noted that three prelates who dealt with the case are no longer with the CDF. One passed, one removed, and a third reassigned by Pope Francis. Flannery further recognized how Francis wrote a letter of affirmations to New Ways Ministry.
“All the issues that I spoke and wrote about, and that the CDF objected to, around priesthood, women and Catholic sexual teaching, are now being discussed widely and freely right around the Church, with no fear of sanctions,” he said.
“Recently I heard a theologian being asked how he could be so outspoken without drawing sanctions on himself as had happened to me,” Flannery said. “His answer was that it was a matter of timing, that the climate is different under the present papacy.”
Earlier in Flannery’s dispute with the Vatican, when he was threatened with excommunication unless he signed a pledge to adhere to Catholic orthodoxy, which meant to deny his advocacy for marriage equality and women’s ordination, he responded, “How can I put my name to such a document when it goes against everything I believe in?” He added, “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.”
Throughout the ensuing years, Fr. Flannery has released several publications about his struggles with the Vatican, his most recent titled, From the Outside: Rethinking Church Doctrine. He continues to call for reform within the Vatican and received support from his religious order and other Catholic leaders. Now at the age of 75, Flannery ponders:
“What do I want at this time of my life? There is something I would like to happen while my mind is still functioning (my eldest brother had dementia before he died), and while I have reasonably good health.”
Sometimes Catholic leaders go to incredible lengths to extinguish ministries which advocate for just treatment and equitable opportunity. Yet even more amazing than this are those Catholics who continue the work even after facing threats, such as Fr. Flannery does. He has continued on despite the Vatican’s efforts to silence him. Fr. Flannery may need to appeal to the Vatican because of his clerical status, but his actions and advocacy are an example for lay people to move forward in our mission without fearing potential sanctions.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, February 10, 2022