Monday, January 21, 2013

Order defends its outspoken priest

The Redemptorist religious order has come out in support of one of its priests who is to risk excommunication rather than give in to Vatican demands to stop questioning Catholic church teachings on sexuality and women priests.

In a strongly worded statement, the order’s Irish leadership said it was deeply saddened by the matter and it was of “immense regret” that processes were not in place in the Church to engage with what it called “challenging voices” from within the faithful.

Fr Tony Flannery, 66, was suspended from ministry by the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith watchdog last year and told he could only resume work if he published an approved article declaring that he accepted all of the Church’s stances on the controversial subjects.

After months of consideration and failed attempts to get the watchdog to enter discussions directly with him, he broke his silence yesterday to say he could not comply with the orders.

“I could not possibly put my name to such an article without impugning my own integrity and conscience,” he told a press conference, an act which itself defied the first order from Rome that he keep the matter secret.

Fr Flannery was supp-orted by the Association of Catholic Priests, which he helped set up and which represents 1,000 Irish priests seeking changes to the way the Church is managed. It described his treatment as “callous” and “brutal“.

“The ACP is disturbed by the procedures evident in this case: the unwillingness to deal directly with the accused person, the injunction to secrecy, the presumption of guilty, the lack of due process,” it said.

It said it believed the targeting of Fr Flannery was less about Church teachings than about trying to censor groups like the ACP. At least five other Irish priests are believed to be under gagging orders by the watchdog.

Fr Flannery urged the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland to take up the matter.

“If some of them were to talk openly about issues like this it would be great. I would call on them to let us hear what they have to say.”

A spokesman for the Irish Bishops’ Conference said it would not be appropriate to comment. “The appropriate and competent Church authorities in this issue are the [Congregation] and the Redemptorist Order,” he said.

However, the Irish Redemptorist Community broke its silence to defend Fr Flannery’s right to raise debate about Church teachings.

“Although not all Redemptorists would accept Fr Flannery’s views, we do understand and support his efforts to listen carefully to and at times articulate the views of people he encounters in his ministry,” the statement said.

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