Time to reinstate Fr Tony Flannery

De Facto

JUSTICE NEEDED Fr Flannery was removed from public ministry eleven years ago because of his writings on women’s ordination, the Eucharist and teachings on sexuality.


De Facto
Liamy MacNally

It is time to reinstate Redemptorist Tony Flannery as a priest in good standing.
Fr Flannery was removed from public ministry eleven years ago by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), as were others over the years, because of his writings on women’s ordination, the Eucharist and teachings on sexuality.  
He was never contacted directly by Rome, never told who his accusers were and never afforded the right to defend himself. All communication was done through the Redemptorist Superior General who censured Fr Flannery.  
Any church needs people to develop thinking, broaden faith, deepen hope and expand love. Theological thought is in constant development, not a ‘fixed asset’ of those in power who can dictate what, when, where and how strands of thought and belief can be packaged. The Holy Spirit is not exclusive to men in mitres,
Faith, hope and love, the kernel of belief, have not already been decided upon. Their limits have not been drawn up, not by anybody or any body. Just as the universe is expanding so is our understanding of its creator. We cannot stop that.
The Church, for all its wisdom, got things spectacularly wrong before. Come back Galileo, all is forgiven! For roughly 30 of the last 40 years the official Church has been keen on cracking down on people who thought differently. They labelled it dissent. Difference is just what it is, not dissent. It is so easy for the official church to adopt the ‘either/or’ approach rather than explore the ‘both/and’ dimension.
Many official church people want everyone to ‘dress the same and act the same’. Theologians and writers faced the wrath of Rome for daring to pose questions, daring to suggest that there are other ways into the heart and mind of God. Instead, the official message was simple, ‘We know who God is. Thus far and no farther’.
It’s strange how cosy it is to accept that God can be defined by limits! Yet, the more you think of that the sillier it is. Why would we ever even dare to place limits of our understanding of God? If God is the great unknowable then who are we to draw up the final definition? God is unchanging in His changeableness. (Now we’re getting there!) God is not an equation under which we can write QED (quod erat demonstrandum).
We don’t even understand our own nature as humans, as creatures, yet we are so quick to draw up limits for our creator. Instead of always being keen to have the answers why don’t we enjoy the journey that questioning takes us on? If we are sure of our own faith, hope and love then the questioning journey is never a threat but the only way forward. We are not made to be complacent. We are pilgrims, searching. Life is a journey not a destination.
Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict had great gifts as theologians. Unfortunately for the Church they made their own limitations the limitations of the church. They could not accept thinking that challenged, provoked or differed from ‘official’ thinking in any way. Their papacies, in the wake of the open windows of Vatican II, ensured that the windows of thought were quickly locked tight rather than allow the breath of  new life of discovery into the hallowed corridors of Roman thinking.
Similar thoughts and writings of those ‘dissenters’ have since been expressed and written by many others without any Roman rebuke. It is time to clear the decks of anomaly within the official church. Justice needs to be done and seen to be done for Tony Flannery and others. It is unacceptable that those who profess faith in a living and vibrant God treat their fellow believers in such a disrespectful and unChristian manner.
Tony Flannery and others have devoted their lives to preaching the Word of God and bringing people to a deeper faith understanding. It is already too late for fellow Irish theologian Seán Fagan, RIP. It is time for Rome and the Redemptorist Superior General to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. In other words, wake up and smell the coffee!