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Irish priests’ group ‘disturbed’ by investigation

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Catholic News Service

DUBLIN — The Irish Association of Catholic Priests said it is “disturbed” that the group’s founder, Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery, is under investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In an April 9 statement, the priests’ association — which represents about 20 percent of Ireland’s 4,000 priests — affirmed “in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Father Flannery, and we wish to make clear our profound view that this intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise.”

The statement said the group “is disturbed” that Father Flannery is being “silenced.”

“We believe that such an approach, in its individual focus on Father Flannery and inevitably, by implication, on the members of the association, is an extremely ill-advised intervention in the present pastoral context in Ireland,” the statement said.

It insists that “the issues surfaced by the ACP since its foundation less than two years ago and by Tony Flannery as part of the leadership team are not an attack on or a rejection of the fundamental teachings of the church. Rather, they are an important reflection by an association of over 800 Irish priests — who have given long service to the Catholic Church in Ireland — on issues surfacing in parishes all over the country.

“While some reactionary fringe groups have contrived to portray our association as a small coterie of radical priests with a radical agenda, we have protested vehemently against that unfair depiction. We are and we wish to remain at the very heart of the church, committed to putting into place the reforms of the Second Vatican Council,” the statement added.

The Irish Catholic newspaper reported April 5 that Father Flannery has been asked by the Vatican to stop writing articles in the order’s monthly magazine.

In the past he has called for reconsideration of the church’s teachings on a variety of issues, including the ordination of women, the ban on artificial birth control and mandatory priestly celibacy. The move against Father Flannery comes just weeks after the report of a Vatican inquiry in Ireland criticized “fairly widespread” dissent from church teaching among Irish clergy.

Reality, the monthly magazine of the Irish Redemptorist community, has also come in for Vatican scrutiny. While Father Gerry Moloney, the magazine’s editor, refused to comment, it is understood that he has been informed by his superiors that the magazine should no longer contain articles that question the church’s teaching.

The investigation of Father Flannery comes just three weeks after the summary report of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation to Ireland criticized what it described as “a certain tendency, not dominant but nevertheless fairly widespread among priests, religious, and laity, to hold theological opinions at variance with the teachings of the magisterium.”

The document emphasized that “dissent from the fundamental teachings of the church is not the authentic path toward renewal.”

Father Flannery has also received support from his Redemptorist colleagues. Father Adrian Egan, who heads the order’s Mount St Alphonsus monastery in Limerick, said he was “dismayed, disappointed, flabbergasted, amazed, and hugely disappointed at the action by the Vatican.”

The Irish branch of the liberal lay movement We Are Church said its members were “appalled” at the move.

“It is especially important that all Father Flannery’s fellow priests should now publicly express their solidarity with their silenced brother priest against this further Vatican infringement of the rights of Catholics to dissent from man-made canon laws of the church,” the group said.