Outspoken priest urges church to examine celibacy and abuse 'link'
A priest threatened with excommunication has called on the Catholic Church to openly debate whether clerical celibacy has contributed to the number of clerics who abused children.
Fr Tony Flannery – a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, which has more than 1,000 members – said the lonely single lives that priests lead result in an "inevitable" struggle over sexuality.
Fr Flannery has been suspended from ministry and threatened with excommunication by the Vatican over his stand on mandatory clerical celibacy, contraception and women priests. He is one of the first priests to publicly question a possible linkage of celibacy and clerical abuse.
He made his comments in an interview with the Irish Independent ahead of the launch on Thursday of his new book, 'A Question of Conscience'.
It is the first public account by a censured priest of how the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith deals with dissenting clergy.
In his book, he describes the "exalted position" of clerical celibacy as a "remnant of misogyny" which is doing a lot of damage to priests' humanity.
"The Catholic Church in Ireland seems to believe that it has dealt with the problems of clerical sexual abuse by putting structures in place to protect children," said the 66-year-old Redemptorist priest.
But he also warned: "Nobody within the official church has looked at the deeper issues and seriously asked the question why so many priests and religious did these things, because it raises fundamental questions about the lifestyle of priests.
"Can they say with any degree of definiteness that the fact that so many priests abused children is not connected to celibacy and clericalism and the whole style of life that a priest is forced to live today? I don't think they can and until such time as the church authorities face up to that and seriously discuss it and investigate it, the problem will not go away."
He said that priests were being forced to live alone in big and old houses where they were isolated and lacking in any real human empathy in their lives.
He questioned if these factors had caused some priests to "turn to children for sexual outlets".
Calling for more research to be done, he warned that until these "enormous questions" were faced up to by the church, safeguarding provisions were "just papering over the cracks".
Separately, the director of the Catholic publisher and retailer Veritas has said it has taken no decision on whether it will sell Fr Flannery's new book.
In a statement to the Irish Independent, Maura Hyland, director of Veritas, said: "This is not unusual as the book is not available."
Correspondence from Veritas to the publishers seen by the Irish Independent refers to the book as "controversial" although it acknowledged that "it would sell well".
Fr Flannery is due to be interviewed on 'The Pat Kenny Show' on Newstalk today.