LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An Irish priest banned from public ministry for the past eight years due to his theological views says the Vatican “may well have done me a favor.”
Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery was forbidden from publicly celebrating the sacraments by the Vatican’s Congregation from the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012 for denying several doctrines of the Catholic Church, including the sacramental priesthood and the founding of the Catholic Church by Jesus Christ.
On Sept. 16, Flannery announced on his personal blog that he refused a Vatican request made in July to sign a statement of faith in order to return to ministry.
In an Oct. 20 column in the Irish Times, the priest said he now believes “that rigid doctrinal definitions become a serious obstacle to experiencing the mystery.”
“I have come to the conclusion that clinging to old certainties can leave us without the resources to deal with the challenges of today, Flannery writes.
“I now accept that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican may well have done me a favor when they intervened in my life eight years ago, and decreed that I could no longer perform public ministry as a priest,” he continues. “These years, despite a certain amount of stress and sadness, have been good. Standing back from ministry, and from active involvement in the church, for the first time in my adult life, I could begin to read, to reflect and to question in a way that I had never done before.”
In his column, the priest highlights his objections to the doctrine of Original Sin and “an angry, vindictive God,” as well as “the negative attitudes to women, and the demonization of sexual love.”
Flannery also questions the definition of Jesus as the only Son of God, Mary’s virginity, and the doctrine of the Trinity being more than “an image, a metaphor” that is useful.
“We are surrounded by mystery, if we can open our eyes and ears to see and hear. In my opinion the serious mistake the church has made, which dates as far back as the fourth century and continues to our day, is that it tried to tame mystery by encircling it with definitions and rigid doctrines,” he writes.
“With our modern understanding of the wonder of creation as an ongoing rather than a historical reality, it is time to look again at our traditional Catholic doctrines and find new metaphors, new language, which will more effectively open up the mystery and timeless wonder of our Christian faith for the modern world,” Flannery says.
The 73-year-old priest has long been a prolific writer on the progressive wing of the Irish Catholic Church, and in 2010 founded the left-leaning Association of Catholic Priests, which claims a membership of around 1,000 clergy.
On Sept. 22, Cardinal Luis Ladaria – the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – was specifically asked about the Flannery case at a Vatican press conference.
“We did everything possible to dialogue with Father Flannery; it was not always easy. We did what we could; at a certain point we had to take some measures, which never involve making a judgment about a person — that always is reserved to our Lord to do — but regarding teaching or behavior,” Ladaria said, according to the Catholic News Service.
“We always tried to maintain our respect for Father Flannery, but the obligation we have according to the disposition of the church is to safeguard the faith and, so to indicate when something does not conform to the faith,” Ladaria continued.
“This is a very unpleasant responsibility of the Doctrine of the Faith, very unpleasant, but it is our responsibility and we would be lacking if we did not fulfill this responsibility and say something when, often painfully,” the congregation must act.
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