An Irish priest who has been persecuted by the Vatican has accused the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal Luis Ladaria, of defaming him.

– “I never had any communication of any nature directly” from Vatican: Father Tony Flannery

“What Ladaria said was totally false and it was defamatory of me, because what he was saying was that they tried [to dialogue and return me to ministry] but [they thought that] I did not cooperate”, Father Tony Flannery said in a webinar November 2 organised by We Are Church Ireland, Voices of Faith and the Catholic Women’s Council.

Flannery has been in limbo ever since his Redemptorist order withdrew him from the public ministry in 2012 over run-ins with the CDF of then-Pope Benedict XVI over the content of Flannery’s books.

The priest was referring in the webinar to a comment Cardinal Ladaria made in September, that the CDF did “everything possible” to dialogue with Flannery and to bring him back into ministry.

“That really angered me”, Flannery said of Ladaria’s comment. “Because I never had any communication of any nature directly from them. If there was any dialogue… it was between the CDF and the superior general of the Redemptorists”.

Not that the Redemptorists have been going out on a limb for Flannery, though, for as the priest said in the webinar he has asked superior general Michael Brehl to publicly correct the record on Ladaria’s false and defamatory comments, but to Brehl’s inaction so far.

Flannery recognised, however, that the Vatican has put Brehl and the Redemptorists in a difficult position over his case.

The priest said his order withdrew him from public ministry “because of pressure from the Vatican… if they had refused to do it, in all probability… the Vatican would have removed the superior general and put one of their own choice in his place”.

– Turned in by “somebody very high up” in the Irish Church

Though it has been dragging on for nearly nine years in total, Flannery’s case blew up again in September, when news broke that the CDF had issued him an ultimatum with four “doctrinal dispositions” reaffirming Church teaching on a male-only priesthood, gay relationships, civil unions and gender identity that he had to sign as a condition for returning to public ministry.

Flannery said he would have been happy to cooperate and dialogue with the CDF before it came to that “utterly ridiculous” ultimatum, but stressed that CDF authorities had never been in personal contact with him.

In the webinar November 2, Flannery blasted his treatment – with that ultimatum and Cardinal Ladaria’s subsequent gaslighting – as a return to the “authoritarian or… very dogmatic” way of exercising power and authority in the Church that in theory was done away with at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Reflecting more broadly on his treatment at the hands of the Vatican, Flannery revealed no fewer than three Roman bodies had investigated him – the CDF, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Congregation for Clergy – which distinction he said ironically he wants on his tombstone.

That kind of persecution of a priest is so unusual that Flannery revealed during the webinar that even Redemptorist superior general Brehl once told him: “Your case is very serious when three bodies come together”.

As to why he in particular was singled out by the Vatican, Flannery also said that Brehl had told him: “It must have been somebody very high up in the Irish Church who reported you to get that type of a response”, of a triple Vatican investigation.

– A new book: From the Outside: Rethinking Church Doctrine

Though Flannery said that he suspects that “my case has got caught in the power struggle that’s going on in the Vatican, between Francis and his supporters on the one hand and the traditionalists [on the other], of whom the CDF is one of the main bodies”, he isn’t letting either his mistreatment or Vatican politics get him down.

In fact, Flannery has just written a new book – From the Outside: Rethinking Church Doctrine – a product, he said, of the “sense of freedom” he has felt during his expulsion that he said he “never” did as a priest.

Edit 9/11 21:57 CET for English expression

– Watch Flannery’s full talk and Q&A session

More on Novena on Father Flannery:

“Contrary to the gospel and an abuse of human rights”: ‘We Are Church’ deplores Vatican persecution of “much loved” Irish priest

US Catholic reform groups stand in solidarity with Irish priest subject to “coercive and abusive… threats and bullying” from Vatican

“Get a grip”: Church reform groups blast Vatican for bullying Irish priest in favour of women’s ordination, gay marriage

January 2020: Irish laypeople, clerics rally around suspended priest, push for his reinstatement

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