A group of Irish laypeople and clerics is rallying around suspended Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery and calling for his reinstatement.

Driving the news

Flannery, the founder of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), broke the news himself in a post on his personal blog January 3.

The priest said he was hopeful of a “new beginning” this 2020, after a return to his monastery and the attempt by a support group to negotiate with Church authorities around his suspension as a priest by the Vatican in 2012.

Go deeper

That “suspension” was the result of Flannery’s unwavering advocacy for Church reform, in particular on the issues of women’s ordination, contraception and homosexuality.

In particular, the then-Pope Benedict-led Vatican took issue with a 2010 article Flannery penned in which he doubted both that Jesus instituted the hierarchical priesthood of the Church today and that Christ designated followers of his to be priests themselves.

“It is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda”, Flannery wrote.

He later defended his article as a simple “thought-provoking” reflection that brought down the ire of a “Spanish Inquisition-style campaign” against him.

Flannery was banned from ministering as a priest and ordered to step aside from his leadership role of the ACP.

Why it matters

Flannery revealed on his blog that “a small group of people, mainly lay, got together and approached the Redemptorist authorities with a view to initiating a discussion that might lead to some way of breaking through the impasse of my ‘withdrawal'”.

“One meeting has taken place, with a promise of further discussion later this month.

“I am extremely grateful to these people for the time and effort they are putting into this, and it remains to be seen where it might lead us”, Flannery wrote.

In the meantime, the priest said “I am still hopeful of change, and continue to be impressed by Pope Francis, but I don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for the work of reform that I had”.

Whether that was down to age or “futility” Flannery said he was “not sure”, but he did add that “seeing the lack of anything really worthwhile happening in the Irish Church is depressing”.

“More and more I am hearing stories of weekend Masses being cut, of parishes being effectively amalgamated, of priests covering numerous churches.

So much of this is being decided exclusively by bishops and priests, with often no consultation with the local faithful, and absolutely no effort made to look at alternatives to our outdated and failed form of ministry.

“It is the clerical church still operating as if nothing had happened, as if there was no Vatican Council and as if Pope Francis had never come with his talk of collaboration and synodality”, Flannery deplored.

For the record

Flannery said whatever the outcome of his support group’s appeal to Church authorities, “I can cope, I think, with not ministering as a priest any more”.

“At my age I wouldn’t be doing much anyway”, he lamented.

“But living within an institution that acts in such a cavalier and unjust fashion, and is quite happy to sit with that injustice and do nothing about it, will be the difficult part”, the priest reflected.

Despite the injustice he’s faced, Flannery concluded that he’s still convinced “that the Divine Spirit, which I do believe is within me and in all of creation, will be the guiding light of this year, not just for myself, but for those I care for”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.