Obedience and Conscience

Last October, Irish priest Fr. Tony Flannery came to the United States to tell how he followed his conscience in the face of all-too-familiar persecution by the Vatican. He was a founder of the Association of Irish Priests and is the author of several books, the latest being A Question of Conscience. He is also well known as a priest who gives retreats and missions across Ireland.   

 In his writings and talks over many years, he advocated the ordination of women and an open approach to LGBT people. He raised questions about the official teaching on contraception, and he also advanced an historical idea of the origins of the priesthood different from the one usually taught. The usual story, as you may remember, says that Jesus ordained the first priests at the Last Supper ... right then and there. Flannery, on the other hand, says the priesthood evolved over the first century or two of church history. And he’s not alone in that; most historians of early church history would no doubt agree with him.

As a result of all this (and probably concerns over an independent organization of Irish priests), the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presented Flannery with a statement to sign rejecting his long-held ideas. His conscience would not permit him to sign such a document and so he refused. Essentially he would be lying, and the thousands who had heard him preach over many years would know that he was lying. 

This is an example of a dilemma that too often faces faithful, but reform-minded priests, nuns and sometimes lay Catholics. 

In fact, something similar to this is happening in the school system of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where Archbishop Cordileone is requiring Catholic school teachers to subscribe to official hierarchical positions that many do not agree with. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, “... a newly released handbook asks the nearly 500 school employees to ‘affirm and believe’ that ‘adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations’ are ‘gravely evil.’ Artificial-reproductive technology, contraception and abortion are described similarly. The ‘fundamental demands of justice,’ it continues, ‘require that the civil law preserve the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.’”

So, knowing that this topic is always “hot,” we featured Flannery on Interfaith Voices this week. We also presented the other side of this argument ... the official position of the hierarchy, arguing for the primacy of obedience. Thomas Petri, an instructor at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., offered that point of view in a separate interview. 

If you want to hear a fascinating discussion on this volatile and emotional topic, visit: Interfaith Voices and go to the lead under “This Week’s Show.” 




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