Church reform groups have blasted the Vatican for bullying a “courageous” Irish priest in favour of women’s ordination and gay marriage, telling Roman authorities to “get a grip”.

– CDF puts conditions on suspended priest’s return to public ministry

News broke September 17 that this past July, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) offered Father Tony Flannery “a gradual readmission… to the exercise of public ministry” if he signed statements reaffirming his assent to traditional Church doctrine.

Flannery was suspended from the public exercise of his priesthood in 2012 for his support for female priests and same-sex marriage.

Coinciding, however, with the pontificate of Pope Francis – who has signalled a relative openness to discussing women’s ordination and softening the Church’s traditionally hardline stance on LGBTIQ+ issues – the Superior General of Flannery’s Redemptorist order, Michael Brehl, had been pushing for a reconsideration of Flannery’s suspension.

– Demands “more at home in the 19th century”

According to the group Fr. Flannery co-founded – the Irish Association of Catholic PriestsFlannery was asked by the CDF to sign four “doctrinal propositions” on the following topics:

  • “According to the Tradition and the doctrine of the Church incorporated in the Canon Law… a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly”
  • “Since the homosexual practices are contrary to the natural law and do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity, they are not approved by the moral teaching of the Catholic Church”
  • “The Marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator (CCC 1660). Other forms of union do not correspond to God’s plan for marriage and family. Therefore, they are not allowed by the Catholic Church”
  • “In so far as it contradicts the foundations of a genuine Christian anthropology, gender theory is not accepted by Catholic teaching”

“After the statement is signed and received, a gradual readmission of Fr Flannery to the exercise of public ministry will be possible by way of an agreement with this Congregation”, the CDF told the leadership of the Redemptorist order in Ireland.

“Furthermore, given the fact that he has stated numerous times that he is not a theologian, he should be asked to not speak publically on the above-mentioned topics which have caused problems in the past”, the Vatican doctrinal authority added.

Flannery told the Irish Times that he was “not surprised, but disappointed and saddened” by the Vatican demands for his return to public ministry.

The priest criticised the CDF document for him to sign as one that, “both in tone and content, would be more at home in the 19th century”.

“I could not possibly sign those propositions”, Flannery insisted, lamenting that it could be “the end of the line in terms of priestly ministry for me”.

“I could not possibly have any more dealings with a body that produces such a document. Life is too short – especially at 73”, the priest rued.

– Vatican subordinating compassion to obedience, in grip of “demons of discrimination”

Reactions to the Vatican demands of Fr. Flannery came thick and fast, with the lay Church reform group We Are Church Ireland denouncing that Rome had “unleash[ed]” the CDF on a “dedicated and much loved priest” whose suspension “has been a great loss to the Church in Ireland”.

“We Are Church Ireland fully support and applaud Fr Tony Flannery’s decision not to sign the CDF document”, the Irish lay group continued.

“We thought that under Pope Francis dialogue was being encouraged and that ‘silencing’ would no longer be the tool of engagement. But it appears that in the Vatican ‘compassion’ must always be second to ‘obedience’. Where does that leave Christ’s message of love?”, We Are Church Ireland asked.

For its part, Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) expressed its solidarity with Flannery, adding that in drawing attention to the four points of the “tragic litmus test of obedience” imposed by the CDF, the priest was carrying out “a great service in shining a light on the misogyny and homophobia that so preoccupies and taints the official Catholic church”. 

Flannery’s “courageous commitment to upholding his conscience is a model of pastoral leadership the institutional Church so desperately needs more of”, WOW emphasised.

“WOW calls on Pope Francis, the CDF and the rest of the male leadership in the Vatican to get a grip and free themselves from the demons of discrimination”, the advocates of women’s ordination added.

“In their pursuit of Tony Flannery, a popular and influential priest, they again show their fear of Catholics growing in awareness of the bogus theology that bans women from ordained ministry”, the group concluded, calling on clergy “to speak out with conviction for radical equality, the way that Tony Flannery has dared to do”.

More on Novena on Father Flannery:

Irish laypeople, clerics rally around suspended priest, push for his reinstatement

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.