Irish cleric threatened with excommunication for suggesting women priests a possibility
Published 20/01/2013 | 14:06
AN outspoken cleric has claimed he has been threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church for suggesting that women might become priests in the future.
Fr Tony Flannery said he is being forced to chose between Rome and his conscience and revealed he is taking legal advice under canon and civil law to help defend his rights as a member of the church and as an Irish citizen.
The 66-year-old, who joined the Redemptorists in 1964, said he has been told by the Vatican that if he wants to remain in the church and in his congregation he must stop any involvement with the liberal Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), which he founded.
The author, who was stopped ministering as a priest for most of the past year, said he has also been ordered not to engage with the media or publish any books or articles.
"I have served the church, the Redemptorists and the people of God for two thirds of my life," said Fr Flannery.
"Throughout that time, I have in good conscience raised issues I believed important for the future of the church in books and essays largely read by practising Catholics, rather than raising them in mainstream media.
"I'm hardly a major and subversive figure within the church deserving excommunication and expulsion from the religious community within which I have lived since my teens."
The priest maintains the actions were instructed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and described them as "frightening, disproportionate and reminiscent of the Inquisition".
Fr Flannery claimed he will be allowed back into ministry only if he writes, signs and publishes an article - to be pre-approved by the CDF - accepting the Catholic Church can never ordain women to the priesthood and accepting all church stances on contraception, homosexuality, and the refusal of the sacraments to people in second relationships.
"I could not possibly put my name to such an article without impugning my own integrity and conscience," Fr Flannery said at a press conference he called in Dublin.
"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is orchestrating all this while refusing to communicate with me. I have had no direct communication with them. I have never been given an opportunity to meet my accusers, or to understand why this action is being taken against me when I've raised the same issues, consistently, for decades."
Fr Flannery was last year silenced after a complaint about his views on the church's ban on artificial birth control and support for the ordination of women made its way to the "Vatican civil service".
He claimed he was told by his superior that the latest orders, and typed A4 page with no letterhead or signature, came from the CDF - the Vatican office responsible for preserving Catholic doctrine and evaluating according to canon law the warrant for disciplinary action against clergy.
The cleric questioned if the threats are a means, not just of terrifying him into submission, but of sending a message to any other priest expressing views at variance with those of the Roman Curia.
"Submitting to these threats would be a betrayal of my ministry, my fellow priests and the Catholic people who want change," he added.