Enda can wield the stick but church takes a hiding
Again and again, I contrast in my mind the praise Enda Kenny has received in many quarters for his ruthless treatment of his party colleagues who voted against the new abortion law, and the condemnation the Vatican has received for its much milder treatment of dissident priests such as Fr Tony Flannery.
The Vatican made a very big mistake taking disciplinary action against Fr Flannery. In doing so it gave him a platform and an enhanced moral status. He is now seen as a martyr for his beliefs.
On the strength of it, he has a new book out called 'A Question of Conscience'. He has been interviewed many times on radio, usually in the most unchallenging and sympathetic way, and only the other day Fr Iggy O'Donovan, another priest not well got in the Vatican, defended him publicly, receiving sympathetic coverage of his own into the bargain.
It is a rare thing indeed for priests such as Fr Iggy and Fr Flannery to be asked tough questions or to have to debate with a critic in the presence of a neutral presenter.
On Monday on RTE radio, Sean O'Rourke did gently probe Fr Iggy and managed to get him to concede that priests can and should be held accountable by church authorities. But when asked to name something that is being done today in the name of Christianity that will be seen by future ages, and by the church itself, as a "perversion", he didn't really come up with anything.
The sex scandals don't come into this category because, unlike, say, the Crusades, they were not done in the name of Christianity.
As for Fr Flannery, I can't remember a single interview in which he has been asked any truly challenging question.
On the question of the nature of the Eucharist, for example, his views appear indistinguishable from those of many Protestants. Is it so hard for an interviewer to ask him, point-blank, whether he believes that at the moment of consecration the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ?
And is it so hard for an interviewer to ask him whether or not he accepts that the church, just like any other organisation, has a right to impose disciplinary procedures on its members in certain circumstances?
Perhaps Lucinda Creighton and her fellow expelled TDs and senators should also publish a book and also call it 'A Question of Conscience'. They paid a much heavier price than Fr Flannery for their actions. They have been expelled, which is to say, excommunicated from their parliamentary party.
Maybe this is one reason why Micheal Martin accused Enda Kenny of echoing Charlie Haughey's "uno duce, una voce", Mussolini-esque style of leadership
Very few radio panellists that I have heard, and very few commentators generally, have said that the "Fine Gael Seven" should not have been expelled. The more general line is that Enda Kenny has proved his toughness, and his action was the only way to maintain party discipline.
Furthermore, it has been said that it will be difficult for him to allow them back into the parliamentary party because that would tell the rest of the Fine Gael TDs and senators that there is no real punishment for breaking the whip, and no real reward for obeying the whip, when they were under considerable public pressure to do otherwise during the abortion debate.
But if it is okay for Fine Gael to take strong action to maintain discipline and the coherence of party policy, then why is it not okay for the church to do so?
Here is the explanation for the contradiction: those praising Kenny and attacking the Vatican simply want to have their way, by whatever means.
They wanted abortion legislated for under the terms of the X case, and they want the Catholic Church to change its teaching in line with their wishes.
Therefore, they supported the disciplining of Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan, Brian Walsh, Fidelma Healy Eames, Billy Timmins, Peter Mathews and Paul Bradford and oppose the disciplining of Fr Tony Flannery et al.
So it's not the use of discipline per se that they oppose. They like it when it suits them, and they oppose it when it suits them. That is to say, they are entirely hypocritical about the matter. And they get away with it and probably can't even see the contradiction half the time.
There is, however, a big difference between the Fine Gael Seven and Fr Tony Flannery that ought to be pointed out, namely this: when Lucinda et al joined Fine Gael they never thought they would be asked to vote for abortion. Their party shifted ground, they did not.
BUT when Fr Tony Flannery became a priest he knew exactly what the church stood for. He now doubts many of the teachings of his church and he expects the church to accommodate him.
It is also very notable that Fr Flannery, who is presenting himself as a hero of conscience, said not one word in support of the Fine Gael Seven when they were punished for standing up for their beliefs.
Nor did he utter one word in opposition to the new abortion law, not even those parts that directly attack conscience rights and would force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions under the terms of the law.
If Fr Flannery really believed in conscience rights, he would have spoken out against the expulsion of the Fine Gael rebels at an absolute minimum. His silence was very telling. Would an interviewer care to put that to him one day?