Response on 13 September 2012 to Document received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
1. Regarding the Church, Fr. Flannery should add to his article
that he believes that Christ instituted the Church with a permanent
hierarchical structure. Specifically, Fr. Flannery should state that he
accepts the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, as found in Lumen
Gentium n. 9-22, that the bishops are the divinely established
successors of the apostles who were appointed by Christ; that, aided by
the Holy Spirit, they exercise legitimate power to sanctify, teach and
govern the People of God; that they constitute one Episcopal college
together with the Roman Pontiff; and that in virtue of his office, the
Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church,
which he is always free to exercise.
I acknowledge and accept the teaching of the second Vatican Council. I
have studied Lumen Gentium and it is clear from the teaching of the
Council that the Lord Jesus set the church on its course by preaching
the Good News. The Council also accepts the teachings of the First
Vatican Council which declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal shepherd,
established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as he
himself had been sent by the Father; and he willed that their
successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even
to the consummation of the world. The Council also teaches that Jesus
placed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent
and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion.
Vatican 2 states that “all this teaching about the institution, the
perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman
Pontiff and of his infallible Magisterium, this Sacred Council again
proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful.” I submit to this
teaching in faith. I further accept the teaching of Vatican 2 that Jesus
appointed twelve apostles and that he formed them into a stable group
and that he placed Peter over them and that Peter was the chief
cornerstone, the leader. I accept and believe that these apostles
appointed successors and these successors appointed other successors of
whom our present bishops are the apostolic successors. I believe that
these bishops, by virtue of their Episcopal consecration, inhabit the
office of teaching and of governing in the Church. I also believe that
this power to teach and govern can be exercised only in hierarchical
communion with the head and members of the Episcopal college. Again, in
the context of all that the Council also taught about collegiality,I
submit to it in faith. More than all of the above, I believe in Jesus
Christ and that He, in His person, in His teaching and in His death and
Resurrection from the dead, is the source of salvation for the whole
2. Regarding the Eucharist, Fr. Flannery should add to his
article that he believes that Christ instituted the priesthood at the
Last Supper; that in the Eucharist, under the forms of bread and wine,
the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained; that the
Eucharist is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the
sacrifice of the cross; and that only a validly ordained priests can
validly celebrate the Eucharist.
I accept that the words of sacred scripture “Do this in Memory of Me”
are inspired by the Holy Spirit. My understanding is that scripture
scholars tell us that the Gospels began as oral tradition and gradually
the stories and teaching of Jesus were put into written form, first in
the writings of St. Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, and later in the
four Gospel accounts that have come down to us. These writing, which we
believe are divinely inspired, tell us that very early, following the
ascension of Christ into Heaven, His followers began to gather, to
re-tell the stories and celebrate the meal, just as Jesus had done. They
did this as He had requested, and so what we now call the Eucharist
became a central part of the life of the early community. Gradually they
began to realise that when they shared the bread and the cup, Jesus was
really present with them. And so I have no difficulty in believing that
the origins of the Eucharist are to be found in the Scripture accounts
of the Last Supper, and that Jesus is really and truly present when we
celebrate the Eucharist.
I believe that priesthood, as we now know it, was not there from the
beginning, but developed gradually. The early Christian communities
choose one of their group to preside at the celebration, while other
members of the community took on other functions. Only gradually did
these different functions come together in one person, who began to be
termed priest. Since the function of the Jewish priest was to offer
sacrifice, the Christian priest also assumed the role of one who offered
sacrifice to the Father, on behalf of the people. In saying this I am
not suggesting that the development of priesthood in the early Church
was not according to the mind of Christ. I accept the teaching of
Vatican 2 that the ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys,
teaches and rules the priestly people; that the ministerial priest acts
in the person of Christ when he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice
and offers it to God in the name of all the people.
3. Regarding his statement concerning the priesthood, Fr.
Flannery should add to his article that he accepts that the Lord Jesus
chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and that
the apostles did the same when they choose collaborators to succeed them
in their ministry; and that the Church recognises herself to be bound
by this choice made by the Lord himself, and for this reason the
ordination of women is not possible.
I have always been impressed by the significant presence of women in
the life of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels. And the writing of St.
Paul and the Acts of the Apostles suggest that they were also
significant in the early Church.
I am also conscious of the work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in
1976. Having studied the question, the commission voted unanimously
that the New Testament does not settle in a clear way and, once and for
all, the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.
Secondly, the possibility that the scripture gave sufficient
indications to exclude the ordination of women was defeated by a
majority of seven votes. And finally the proposition that the Church
hierarchy could admit women to ordination without going against Christ’s
original intentions was approved by the same majority.
My years of pastoral ministry have informed me that many women find the
current Church teaching on this matter very difficult. Lumen Gentium 12
states that “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by
the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this
special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment
in matters of faith when ‘from the bishops down to the last of the lay
faithful’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals”
There are clear indications from research, and also from my many years
of pastoral experience, that a great many of the faithful have not
‘received’ this teaching. Putting that together with the findings of the
Pontifical Biblical Commission, I am left with serious questions about
the teaching on the ordination of women in the Catholic Church. I also
have questions as to whether sufficient level of discernment was
undertaken prior to the decree that the topic of the admission of women
to ministerial priesthood should not be discussed by faithful members of
the Catholic Church.
I have given this serious consideration and I find
it difficult to dismiss the strong possibility that the Holy Spirit may
have been speaking through the aforementioned Pontifical commission,
and may be currently speaking through the voice of the faithful. So I am
left with serious and difficult questions.
In this context, I point to the Declaration on Religious Liberty issued
by Vatican II. This document states that human persons are bound to
adhere to the truth, once they come to know it and direct their whole
lives in accordance with truth. I am aware that the thrust of the
Declaration on Religious Liberty focuses on the religious freedom that
must be accorded to the human person by the civil authorities.
believe when the Church declares “in religious matters, every form of
coercion by men should be excluded” I think that this teaching should
also guide the governance of the church in dealing with its own members.
4. Furthermore, Fr. Flannery should state that he accepts the whole teaching of the Church, also in regard to moral issues.
This part of the request from the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith seems to particularly focus on Church teaching on moral
As with my response to the last question, it is also clear to me that
some matters of Church teaching on sexual issues are not ‘received’ by
the majority of faithful Catholics. Again this is shown by the results
of research in various parts of the world, and also clearly in my years
of pastoral experience. So I am left with the same serious and difficult
question. Is it possible that in this area also the Spirit is speaking
to us through the voice of the committed believers?
I have worked for almost forty years as a Redemptorist Priest, trying to
follow the instruction of our founder, St. Alphonsus, that I should
have particular care for the most abandoned, for those on the margins of
society or Church, and for those who feel lost and alone. In this
context I have experienced difficulty also with the way in which Church
moral teaching has been presented and imposed on people.
I have always
been very conscious of the warning of Jesus that we should not be like
the Pharisees, placing impossible burdens on peoples’ shoulders, and not
lifting a finger to help them. There have been time when teachings were
imposed without the necessary degree of understanding and compassion.
Of course we must strive for the ideal, as laid out in the Gospels, but,
like Jesus, we must be compassionate, accepting and forgiving of the
weakness and failure of humanity, including ourselves.
Finally, may I say this about the dispute that exists between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and myself:
I hope that I am a committed member of the Catholic Church and of the
Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
I have spent my priestly life
preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the best of my ability.
believe that my life as a priest and religious has been a great
privilege, one of which I am not worthy.
I love the Catholic Church. Its
spirituality has nourished me through my life. I don’t want to belong
to any other church. I ask to be allowed to practice my priesthood.
see how His Holiness, Pope Benedict has been able to reach out to the
followers of Bishop Lefebvre and such reconciliation bears witness to
the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I ask that this inclusiveness also include
me. In humility and charity, I point out that I have not made any public
comments that have not been made by Moral Theologians and Scripture
Scholars who are teaching in institutions that have the approval of the
teaching Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church. I cannot do otherwise
than follow my conscience.
This is where I stand.
This is my statement.
Fr. Tony Flannery C.Ss.R.