Fr Tony Flannery has said he believes he should no longer be called a dissident because he is now ‘mainstream’.
The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests has also questioned why senior members of the Catholic Church are not being sanctioned, as he was, for airing their views in favour of women being ordained.
His public expression of support for women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, as well as more liberal views on homosexuality, led him to be suspended from public ministry by the Vatican in 2012.
He has been told he can return to ministry if he vows in writing to obey the Church’s teaching on women and LGBT+ people.
However, he has now noted that two senior members of the Catholic Church – one of them the Archbishop-elect of Dublin – have made statements similar to his own about the position of women in the Church, and specifically about women’s ordination.
Fr Flannery said: ‘Given that the opinions I have expressed on these matters are now being held and expressed by many people of all levels right across the Church, without any apparent sanction, I am curious to know how any Church authority, ecclesiastical or religious, can justify and condone the sentences that have been imposed upon me.’
He said the Archbishop-elect of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, in an interview with The Irish Times, had said he would like to see women becoming deacons in the Church.
Fr Flannery said: ‘He is reported to say that “the biggest barrier to having female priests in the Catholic Church is probably tradition, not the Scriptures”.
‘In saying this, he appears to undercut the main argument used by the Church against the ordination of women.’
Fr Flannery said that Bishop Batzing, the president of the German Bishops Conference, had been reported as saying he was in favour of women being ordained deacons.
Bishop Batzing went on to say, in relation to the arguments against the ordination of women: ‘I must honestly say that I am also aware that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that there are well-developed arguments in theology in favour of opening up the sacramental ministry to women as well.’
Fr Flannery said: ‘So now the German bishop who supports women’s ordination has been joined by the new man in Dublin, who supports women deacons, and undercuts the main argument about ordination – that Scripture forbids it. No longer dissident, I am now mainstream!’
He added: ‘Will these two senior clerics be asked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to sign a document which states “a baptised male alone receives ordination validly”?
‘It is not my wish that they be requested to do so, but it is worth pointing out that this is what I have been ordered to sign as a precondition of being “gradually” restored to ministry.’
Fr Flannery also noted that Bishop Batzing had said he believed it was necessary to change Church teaching on homosexuality, while Pope Francis disliked the Church’s description of homosexuality as an ‘intrinsic moral evil’.
He queried if either of them would be asked, like him, to sign a statement declaring homosexual practices to be ‘contrary to the natural law’.
Professor believes Francis sees road to lasting change as a long one
By Colleen Walsh
The disclosure this week of Pope Francis’ support of same-sex civil unions sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church and progressive and conservative circles alike. It came in a papal interview in “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, and represented a major break with Vatican teaching, leaving many wondering whether an official change might be coming soon. In the film Francis says, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” The Gazette spoke with Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and professor of comparative theology, about the pope’s comments and what they mean for members of the Catholic LGBTQ community.
GAZETTE: What was your reaction when you heard about the pope’s comments on same-sex unions?
CLOONEY: On the one hand, it’s not surprising at all, because Archbishop Bergoglio [now Pope Francis] struggled with the issue of formal marriage relationships when he was in Argentina and pointed to a compromise such as calling same-sex unions civil unions and not marriage. This debate is similar to what we went through in this country a decade or so ago. But I think Francis’ openness to same-sex unions is also more fundamentally representative of his instinct that human beings have a right to be together, a right to union, a right to family, and therefore, that it would be unjust to provide no way at all for people to live together as a couple. I think it’s his basic sense of human compassion and his openness to finding ways to help people to live the lives that they feel they must live.
On the other hand, you can’t imagine previous popes speaking in this fashion. That doesn’t mean that someone like John Paul was not a compassionate person, but they were so clearly linked to, focused on, church doctrine, and the preservation of marriage between a male and a female and, given their attitudes toward homosexuality, they simply wouldn’t speak in this fashion, whatever they may personally have felt. And I think what is new here is that Francis, as all the reports say, is in the non-authoritative context of a documentary — not sitting on the chair of Peter as pope making a proclamation — speaking his mind as probably most Catholics in the West would also speak their minds and say, “Well yes, some kind of way to allow people to live their lives happily and in peace is what matters.”
GAZETTE: Does this change anything about the church’s overall doctrine?
CLOONEY: Probably not, because he hasn’t pushed it that far in terms of recognizing gay marriages. But implicitly, it’s undercutting the rhetoric that being gay is a grave disorder or that being gay and living out a gay commitment is something that God disapproves of. Francis is taking a positive attitude and therefore changing the climate, even if there are going to be Catholics who resist this greatly.
GAZETTE: I know Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in Providence, R.I., has come out very strongly against this. Do you expect an even greater backlash from conservative and other voices in the church?
CLOONEY: Yes, but not as much as one might think. This news is based on a documentary, and it’s in keeping with things Francis has said previously. Conservative critics are not going to be surprised by this, even if they will be very annoyed by it. People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him, even though he’s the pope and deserving of their respect. You may recall much earlier in his papacy, when people asked him about his thoughts on homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge people in their lives?” This is Francis, and for many, this is a wonderful Francis; but for some, it’s the Francis they can’t abide, and they will continue to protest.
GAZETTE: Can you see him pressing this forward to doctrinal change?
CLOONEY: Several years ago, when there was discussion with the pope and some of the bishops about divorced and remarried Catholics returning to Communion, Francis didn’t bite the bullet and declare that they’re welcome back to Communion if they’re in a stable second marriage. But he said that good priests, who know how to be pastoral, will know how to relate to people. It was as if to say: If a couple who are divorced and remarried comes to you, you’ll help them to find their way. My sense is that Francis is not the man as pope, particularly going on 10 years into his papacy, to be making declarations that push the church where it’s not ready to go. But rather, again, he is giving a green light, really, to priests and others involved in counseling couples to say we have to find ways to welcome Catholics as they are: Be pastoral; be like Jesus. And I think this opens the door, even though it will be controversial in some circles, to saying couples who are in a same-sex marriage are members of the parish and welcome in Catholic worshipping communities. Of course, in some dioceses, such couples will not be welcome to Communion. There will be differences in response and pastoral practice. So I think what is at stake is a kind of incremental pastoral disposition, whereby things will change, as they always have, only slowly. The pope is saying things that other popes never would have said previously. But I don’t see Francis being in the position to make any kind of daring pronouncement in the years to come about gay marriage. I wouldn’t anticipate that coming.
Pope Francis, in a new documentary, has called for the creation of civil union laws for same-sex couples, in what amounts to his clearest support to date for the issue.
In the documentary, according to the Catholic News Agency, Francis is quoted as saying that same-sex couples should be “legally covered.”
“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he said.
Francis has long expressed an interest in outreach to the church’s LGBT followers, but his remarks have often stressed general understanding and welcoming — rather than substantive policies.
Priests in some parts of the world bless same-sex marriage, but that stance — and Francis’s new remarks — are a departure from official church teaching.
The documentary, “Francesco,” is premiering this week in Rome and then in the United States. The pope gave an interview to the filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, saying that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family.”
“They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” the pope said. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
Francis, who became pope in 2013, gave earlier, oblique signals interpreted as openness to recognizing same-gender civil unions. He has usually framed his comments in pragmatic, curious terms — as someone noticing the possible need for legal recognition for existing families, so they can access civil benefits such as heath care.
“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has advocated for the church to more openly welcome LGBT members, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”
According to a Religion News Service story from 2014, Francis — while still a cardinal in Argentina — tried to “negotiate with the Argentine government over the legalization of gay marriage and signaled he would be open to civil unions as an alternative.”
Francis made news that year when the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview with him reiterating “the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and other benefits,” RNS reported.
In the interview, Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” Corriere della Serra quoted him as saying.
The interview triggered global interest and controversy. Some said Francis had outright endorsed civil unions.
The Vatican quickly clarified that Francis was speaking in general terms and that people “should not try to read more into the pope’s words than what has been stated,” RNS reported in 2014.
Italy was the last country in Western Europe — other than Vatican City — to offer same-sex couples legal rights, The Washington Post reported in 2016, a position based on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic opposition to such unions.
Francis has a reputation of offering words open to interpretation. In 2016, after the Vatican hosted a combative synod on the family, he said “there cannot be any confusion between the family willed by God and other kinds of unions,” The Post’s 2016 story said.
This has angered traditional Christians. In 2015, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if accepting civil unions would make him “uncomfortable,” Dolan said it would, because it could “water down” the traditional religious view of marriage,” the RNS story reported.
Banned Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery (73) has declined a Vatican offer of a return to ministry if he promised silence and and signed statements on church teachings.
The offer made by Rome in July would have involved signing documentsasserting church teaching on women priests, homosexuality, same sex marriage, and gender theory
Co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Fr Flannery was suspended in 2012 from public ministry by the Vatican for publicly expressing support for women’s ordination and same sex marriage as well as more liberal views on homosexuality.
Last February the Redemptorists’ Superior General in Rome Michael Brehl wrote to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) making representations for Fr Flannery’s return to public ministry. It , in turn, followed correspondence with him last year by the Redemptorists’ leadership in Ireland.
They did so as, under the leadership of Pope Francis, issues such as the equality and ordination of women are now freely discussed in the Church as is a more compassionate and nuanced approach to homosexuality.
The CDF responded that “Fr Flannery should not return to public ministry prior to submitting a signed statement regarding his positions on homosexuality, civil unions between persons of the same sex, and the admission of women to the priesthood.”
It said “the Irish Provincial should ask Fr Flannery to give his assent to the statement by providing his signature in each of the places indicated (enclosure).” This latter referred to separate statements asserting church teaching in each relevant area with space for Fr Flannery to sign his assent.
The CDF response continued: “After the statement is signed and received, a gradual readmission of Fr Flannery to the exercise of public ministry will be possible by way of an agreement with this Congregation. Furthermore, given the fact that he has stated numerous times that he is not a theologian, he should be asked to not speak publically on the above-mentioned topics which have caused problems in the past.”
As well as signing separate statements on each issue, Fr Flannery was also asked to sign an additional paragraph which stated “I, Fr Tony Flannery C.Ss.R, submit to all of the above doctrinal propositions given by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as they pertain to the Church’s teaching on the: 1. Reservation of the sacred priesthood to men alone; 2. The moral liceity of homosexual practices; 3. The legal recognition of marriage between persons of the same sex; and 4. ‘Gender Theory’.”
Responding to the CDF document, Fr Flannery said he was “not surprised, but disappointed and saddened” by it. “In my view it is a document that, both in tone and content, would be more at home in the 19th century. I could not possibly sign those propositions.”
The issue of equality, and ordination, of women “is now freely discussed in the Church,” he said, and that he was “on record for many years now in supporting, indeed emphasizing the necessity, of full equality for women, including ordination. How could I possibly sign that first proposition.”
The same applied to “ official Church language on homosexuality and homosexual relationships,” which he described as “appalling. I could not submit to it. As regards same sex marriage, I voted in favour of it. I don’t know enough about Gender Theory to have any strong views on it, and I don’t know where that one came from.”
He felt this was “the end of the line in terms of priestly ministry for me. I could not possibly have any more dealings with a body that produces such a document. Life is too short – especially at 73”.
Next month Fr Flannery’s latest book ‘From the Outside; Rethinking Church Doctrine’ will be published.
The Vatican said Wednesday that Pope Francis has created a new commission of experts to examine whether women can be deacons, an ordained role in the Catholic Church currently reserved for men.
The 10-member commission, the second of Francis’ pontificate to study the fraught issue, includes equal numbers of men and women representing the United States and six European countries.
Deacons are ordained ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and they can preach. They cannot celebrate Mass.
Married men can be ordained as deacons. Women cannot, though historians say women served as deacons in the early Christian church.
In response to women demanding to be given greater roles in the 21st century, Francis established a commission in 2016 to study female deacons in the early Christian church. But the members failed to reach a consensus and the group effectively ended its work.
The issue was revived during Francis’ 2019 summit on the Amazon. The region’s bishops called for the question of women deacons to be revisited given the shortage or priests in the vast territory. Francis agreed at the time, and the new commission appears to be his follow-up.
Significantly, the scope of the commission’s mandate does not appear to be limited to the early church, as was the 2016 commission. Amazonian bishops had called for the real-life experiences of their region’s Catholic faithful to be taken into consideration in any new evaluation.
Advocates for expanding the ministry to include women say doing so would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address priest shortages in several parts of the world.
Opponents say allowing women to be deacons would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood. The Catholic Church reserves the priesthood for men, saying Christ chose only men as his 12 apostles. Francis has repeatedly reaffirmed the teaching.
The new commission has as its president the archbishop of the central Italian city of L’Aquila, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi. An official from the Holy See’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was named to serve as No. 2.