An Irish organization of Catholic priests has responded positively to the Vatican’s recent guidance about transgender people and the sacraments, with the priests group describing the guidance as a “very, very positive” step.
Leaders of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), a church reform organization, heralded as an important step for inclusion the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent document saying transgender people could be baptized and serve as godparents.
Fr. Roy Donovan, an ACP member, called the Vatican statement “an extravagant welcome” for trans people, adding, per RTE:
“‘We hope that we all take [Pope Francis’s] example and give people a full welcome and full inclusiveness in the sacramental, pastoral life of the church. . .here’s a lot more that can be done and I think the statement shows that the church can change its mind and change its practices and policies, and that’s good. It’s very, very positive.'”
ACP members were critical of some of the guidance’s language, such as an over-emphasis on the avoidance scandal when set against pastorally-focused priorities, like fully integrating LGBTQ+ people in the church. However, the priests are mostly hopeful that this guidance is just the first of many steps taken to move the church away from LGBTQ-negative attitudes and towards a greater welcome of Catholics who have historically been excluded.
The Irish priests’ group has advocated inclusion for LGBTQ+ Catholics and their allies multiple times. ACP staunchly supported Fr. Tony Flannery, a Redemptorist priest and longtime supporter of New Ways Ministry, who was suspended from ministry by the Vatican in 2012, in part due to his pro-LGBTQ+ views.
Flannery nonetheless has continued to write and advocate for reform. He has remained firm in his support, refusing to sign a document which would grant him the ability to minister again, but would necessitate that he endorse anti-LGBTQ+ views. Fr. Flannery’s steadfast support, even at such personal cost, is an example of what it means to truly be in solidarity with the marginalized.
Now, a documentary film about the Redemptorist priest, entitled Misneach: Tony Flannery, is being released. Described in the Galway Daily as a film which “gives a voice to a priest who has been side-lined by the church he has devoted his life to,” the documentary details Flannery’s life and ministry, highlighting the process through which he was censured and the ways that he continues to speak up.
Just as Fr. Flannery remains determined to speak in support of LGBTQ+ rights, ACP continues to support him and their common mission of LGBTQ+ inclusion. In a statement of support, ACP and the Lay Catholic Group (LCG), another Irish church reform organization, called for justice in the case of Flannery, who has never been granted a review of his case at the Vatican, despite his requests. The ACP and LCG remarked:
“In the wake of the Synodal Pathway how can the church accept the decision against Tony Flannery? The issues he wrote about which resulted in his removal from priestly ministry are now healthily being discussed in the public forums of the Catholic Church.”
Fr. Donovan made similar remarks:
“Pope Francis is stressing a pastoral approach at the moment and that’s very, very positive. Now, a lot of the teachings the church has at the moment, especially on gay people, on sexuality, they need to be updated. If they could change their minds on a lot of other areas I think there’s room for a lot more change, at the doctrinal level [and the] teaching level.”
As Catholic LGBTQ+ advocates’ stories continue to be told and support for LGBTQ+ inclusion continues to be voiced, we hope that, as a church, we will continue to progress on the road of radical welcome, inclusion, and pastoral encounter—and see justice for LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies, especially Fr. Tony Flannery.
—Phoebe Carstens (they/them), New Ways Ministry, November 27, 2023