Fr Kevin Hegarty
LAST Wednesday Fr Seán Fagan was laid to rest in Dublin. He was an imaginative and thought provoking theologian and a sensitive man.
The papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were cold places for liberal Catholic academics. Seán experienced the lash of the Irish Catholic hierarchy in 2004 for his book, ‘Does Mortality Change?’ In 2008 the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned his book, ‘Whatever Happend to Sin?’ It ordered that it be taken off the shelves. It threatened him that if he published anything it considered contrary to Catholic teaching he would be laicised. Two years ago, following the intervention of our former President, Mary McAleese, Pope Francis lifted the sanctions.
Mrs McAleese paid a moving tribute to Fr Fagan last week: “A brilliant theologian and thinker who brought great distinction to Ireland, his long and illustrious career was blighted in later years by being silenced by the ‘Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith’. His heart and spirit were broken but his fidelity to the Church and quiet acceptance of such an unjust fate won him even more admirers. When, thanks to Pope Francis, the CDF finally restored him to good standing in 2014, it was a case of too little too late. A great and good man’s life and his life’s work had been ruined. Anyone wishing to comprehend the collapse of the Catholic intellectual tradition need only examine Seán Fagan’s tragic story. It reflects well on Seán and badly on those who hounded him using Byzantine processes with no regard for due process or human rights. May his legacy be an inspiration to restless inquiring minds who pursue justice and truth no matter what the personal cost.
Seán Fagan was one of a number of Irish priests who, it was revealed four years ago, attracted unfavourable attention in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church. The stories of what Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Brian endured are well known.
Less well known, until now, is the experience of Fr Gerard Molony, a Limerick-based Redemptorist priest. In 1993 he became editor of the Congregation’s Magazine, ‘Reality’.
He inherited a magazine that was as stodgy as cold porridge. He transformed it into a lively forum that avoided mindless piety. The publications, under his editorship, was well designed, colourful and accessible. It addressed openly the challenges confronting contemporary Catholicism. Animated debate, conducted respectfully, often enlivened its pages.
On a May morning in 2011 Gerard was about to go out for a walk when he met the Irish Redemptorist superior, Fr Michael Kelleher, who informed him that was in trouble with the Vatican over articles in ‘Reality’.
The ‘Congregation for the Defence of the Faith’ was especially disturbed by the March 2009 issue of the magazine which it considered promoted the idea of women’s ordination to the priesthood. It ordered the Redemptorist’s to remove Fr Molony as editor with a month’s notice.
Fr Kelleher went on to say that he and the Redemptorist superior in Rome had managed to broker a compromise with the CDF. He could continue as editor if he did not publish anything supportive of the ordination of women, critical of compulsory celibacy, opposed to the Church’s stance on homosexuality and could be seen as disrespectful to the Pope. To my mind he was placed in an impossible position, like trying to play hurling with an arm in a sling.
Fr Molony laboured under these restrictions until 2014 when his health broke down. He began to suffer chronic back pain. He ascribes his condition to the stress he suffered from the unjust procedures of the Vatican.
Church leaders often speak on justice. I believe that they cannot do so with authority until they address injustices in the institution they represent.