Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Papal biographer rejects Flannery-Francis comparisons

Claims by a controversial priest that he resembles Pope Francis are misplaced, a bestselling papal biographer has said.

Speaking on RTÉ radio at the weekend, Fr Tony Flannery denied that he disagrees with fundamental Church teaching continuing: “In fact, I would suspect that I am closer to the teaching and the attitude of Pope Francis than a lot of the Irish Church and a lot of the Irish bishops are.” 

However, Austen Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope rejected this. 

“Pope Francis is a Gospel radical who is purifying the Church of its attachments and corruptions,” Dr Ivereigh told The Irish Catholic, continuing, “but he is not a liberal who is downgrading or downplaying core Catholic doctrines and traditions, which he has always defended and assumed.”


Fundamental understandings about the nature of priesthood are central to differences between Fr Flannery, who has been barred from ministry since 2012, and Pope Francis, according to Dr Ivereigh.

Dr Ivereigh said that many of Fr Flannery’s views are clearly at odds with the Pope and Church teaching.

“Fr Flannery doesn’t seem to attach significance to the priesthood, seeing it as an historical deviation from what Christ intended, whereas Francis has a powerful, mystical notion of priesthood rooted in Christ’s ministry,” he said, adding, “the Jesuits’ apparent loss of priestly identity in the 1970s is something he vigorously opposed.”

In his RTÉ interview, Fr Flannery described how he came into conflict with Church authorities over articles in Reality magazine, notably one where he wrote that he no longer believed “the priesthood, as we currently have it in the Church, originated with Jesus”. 


Speculating that “some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda”, he also wrote that he no longer believed only priests could celebrate the Eucharist.

In dealings with the Vatican later that year, Fr Flannery was loath to specifically acknowledge “that Christ instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper” or that the Eucharist is a sacrifice that makes present the sacrifice of the Cross. 

Asked to clarify that he believed “in the Eucharist, under the forms of bread and wine, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained”, he replied only with the vague statement that he believed “that Jesus is really and truly present when we celebrate the Eucharist”.

Disagreements on such issues as contraception and women’s ordination came to the fore then, with Fr Flannery’s views differing sharply from those of Pope Francis, who has hailed as “prophetic” Blessed Paul VI’s teaching on contraception in 1968’s Humanae Vitae, and as recently as November 2016 said St John Paul II’s 1994 ruling on the impossibility of women priests was “the last word” on the subject.

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