Irish priest Tony Flannery to violate suspension from ministry to celebrate birthday Mass

 |  NCR Today

A popular Irish priest who was suspended from public ministry by the Vatican's doctrinal office five years ago primarily because of his support for women's ordination is planning to violate his suspension in order to celebrate the Mass for his 70th birthday.

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery says in a Jan. 4 posting at his website that he wants to "honor my age, and my lifetime, by ignoring the Church censures, and celebrating a public Mass."

Flannery says that over the past five years of his suspension he has felt like he has been living in a "limbo" state and wants to use the occasion of the Mass to express gratitude to those who have supported him through those years.

"Since my dispute with the Vatican went public I have received enormous support from people all over the country, and indeed internationally," he writes. "Eucharist is essentially a thanksgiving and in this Mass I am giving thanks for the good will of many people."

Flannery is a popular Irish writer, retreat giver, and, formerly, pastor. He was removed from public ministry in February 2012 by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which cited a number of columns he had written for Reality, a Redemptorist-run magazine in Ireland.

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Detailing the ordeal in his 2013 book A Question of Conscience, Flannery says he was told to publicly revise some of the views expressed in his columns or risk suspension of his ability to minister. The priest was also told to maintain public silence as he was being investigated.

Flannery maintained that silence for a year, until revealing publicly in January 2013 that he was facing the threat of excommunication. While Flannery offered the doctrinal congregation a statement of clarification of his views, they requested that he also publish a statement that women would never be ordained as priests.

The priest refused the latter request and has been banned from ministry since.

"I don’t have any problem with the Church exercising authority," Flannery writes in his Jan. 4 posting. "Every institution needs an authority structure."

"But authority must be exercised in a way that is just, and that respects the dignity of the person," he continues. "In my experience, and in the experience of many others whom I have come to know in these past years, Church authority is exercised in a way that is unjust and abusive."

"For that reason I hope that my action will highlight once again the urgent need for change in the way the Vatican deals with people who express opinions that are considered to be at odds with official Church teaching," states the priest.

In a brief phone call Wednesday, Flannery said he had gotten an "enormous" amount of feedback to his posting and thought he had "touched on something important that's going on in the church in the moment."

The priest said he was unsure if any further disciplinary actions would be taken against him after he celebrates the Jan. 22 Mass.

"I am somewhat apprehensive about presiding at a public mass after almost 5 years in the wilderness, but to quote Macbeth, 'to go back is as tedious as to go on' and I now feel the urge to take a positive step," Flannery wrote on his website.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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