I first came across Tony Flannery in a piece of his writing on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests, of which he was a co-founder, offering the opinion that the then upcoming International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Dublin would be an opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church to pursue the theme of repentance and humility and avoid any of the triumphalism which dominated the last Dublin IEC in 1932. A rock of a sensible suggestion, I thought at the time.
Did the hierarchy pay a whit of attention to this good advice. Not at all. They went out and got brand new bespoke uniforms (vestments to you) for all the clerical participants and had a right extravagant Communio Fest. Mind you, their use of media, including social media, was first class professional, really. Had the message matched up to the quality of the dress and the media we might have been getting somewhere.
The day after I first came across Fr. Flannery, I read a piece in the Irish Catholic newspaper which said he had been silenced by the Vatican and his regular column in the Redemptorist magazine Reality had been pulled.
There followed a good eighteen months when none of us knew what Fr. Flannery's status was, and in the course of which it came to light that other priests had been silenced, not least Fr. Seán Fagan, an inspirational theologian now ageing and in bad health.
Fr. Flannery eventually came to the conclusion that, despite various attempts on his part to satisfy the outrageous demands of the Inquisition (now the Vatican Curial Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - CDF), there was no satisfying them, so he unsilenced himself and gave interviews and wrote articles about his case, and he has now written a book which sums it all up. The book publishes the texts of his correspondence with the Superior of his Order (who was, in effect, a Vatican proxy) and it attempts to explain the context of the views and remarks of his on foot of which he was being condemned.
Among the reasons for his coming to the conclusion that he would never be allowed return to ministry, was the conviction that he was simply being used as a pawn in a wider Vatican game to undermine the newly formed Association of Catholic Priests, of which he was a co-founder and member of the leadership team, and whose independence scared the bejaysus out of the Vatican.
His book is a bloodboiling read, all the more so if you have heard him interviewed on radio or tv. How such a holy man could be so outrageously treated by the Church to which he had given some forty years of sterling service is unbelievable. The saga is a testimony to the unfitness for office of all of those he has come up against.
Funnily enough, the present Pope, Francis, seems to endorse this view in his recent interview. He says, among other things, that
the dicasteries [departments] of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops. They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship. It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.And now that the cat is out of the bag, the courageous Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, is echoing these sentiments. Pity he didn't say this earlier, if that's what he really thinks.
Meanwhile the question now is: has Fr. Flannery blown it, or will he benefit retrospectively from the Pope's views. His own view is that the Pope's intervention has effectively emasculated the CDF and that his fate is now in the hands of his Redemptorist superiors.
Among the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which he has suffered in the interim was a crude attempt to impersonate and discredit him on Twitter.
With the help and advice of good friends and supporters, he got the imposter "silenced". Slight irony there?
Anyway, the book is a great read. It is sold out at most outlets and is going into its second run, which should appear next week. I hope to see it going viral, translated into many languages, and on the curriculum of all seminaries (while such institutions last), first as a warning and eventually, hopefully, on the history shelves.