Fr Flannery is being disciplined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for expressing views contrary to official church teachings on matters like clerical celibacy and the ordination of women.
Fr Flannery insisted the public mass was a one-off event, to celebrate his 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of his ordination. Coverage of the event in Irish national media outlets confirmed that hundreds attended the mass in rural Co. Galway.
In an account published on his blog, Fr Flannery reported that he had 500 hosts to distribute for communion, but this was not enough:
I had five hundred hosts, and I knew they would not be enough, so I invited the people, when they took the host, to break and share it with others. This added to the closeness, the sense of belonging. In my homily I stressed that God is present in every one of us, not just in the host, so by being together we were bringing God to each other. And I invited everyone, as long as they had any sense of the Divine in their life and in this gathering, to come to communion.RTE’s coverage described it this way:
Signs were erected on approach roads to the centre before today’s service. In addition, a marquee was erected beside the building to cater for the hundreds of people who turned up.
The proceedings were relayed on a big screen to the congregation outside the community centre.
Fr Flannery’s homily met with a standing ovation and many of those in attendance expressed hope that the Vatican would engage in a more meaningful manner with the faithful.This outpouring of popular support for a ‘banned’ priest reflects profound changes in the Irish Catholic Church.
A 2012 poll commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), of which Fr Flannery is a founding member, found that a large majority of self-identified Irish Catholics disagreed with official church teachings on married priests, the ordination of women, sexual morality, and so on.
Fr Flannery also made this point in his blog, emphasising that Church leaders should be open to the voices of the people of God:
Killimordaly is a rural area in the centre of county Galway. It is traditional in many ways. The way they responded, and took part, showed clearly to me how much has changed in our Church. Diktats from the Vatican, or any Church authority, do not carry much weight any more. A Church leader, if he is to be credible, must in future be a listener, who is with the people. Otherwise he will not be a real leader. (What I am saying here is not original; Pope Francis is constantly saying this to the wearers of mitres.)But will the Irish Catholic Church – and the Catholic Church internationally – ‘engage in a more meaningful manner with the faithful’? It is a truism that ‘the Catholic Church is not a democracy.’
Those who do not agree with officialdom are more often excluded than seen as people who could contribute constructively to change, helping to renew the Church.