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.
A Swiss bishop’s appointment of a lay mother of three to a senior administrative post previously held by a priest has raised eyebrows in conservative Catholic circles, at a time when a strengthened role for women in the church is under debate in other European countries.
Marianne Pohl-Henzen will serve as an “episcopal delegate” in the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, and will also be joining Bishop Charles Morerod’s episcopal council, the main governance advisory body which is traditionally made up of priests and bishops.
Pope Francis has insisted women should be given greater decision-making roles in church governance. He has recently reconstituted a study commission on whether women can be ordained deacons, but has upheld a ban on women priests and counts no women among his top advisers.
Church conservatives are particularly sensitive to any moves involving women in decision-making roles usually reserved for men, fearing they could set in changes motion that could eventually lead to women being ordained priests.
Swiss church leaders insist Pohl-Henzen’s role as “episcopal delegate” for the German-speaking part of the Fribourg canton, or region, will be different from that of her predecessor. He had been an “episcopal vicar,” which under church law is an ordained priest whose main task is to help the bishop govern a part of his diocese, including with authority over priests.
Pohl-Henzen, who had been the vicar’s No. 2 for years, is simply rising to the top job on Aug. 1. She says she obviously won’t carry out key religious duties that only a priest could.
“It’s a small step,” she said in an interview. “If others steps happen when it comes to women in the church, it will be through men first. For example, perhaps the requirement of the celibacy of priests will fall. The next step could be women as deacons. And maybe far, far later, women as priests.”
“But we know many people don’t want that to happen so we cannot push much,” she added. “We need to take it step by step.”
Catholic doctrine reserves the priesthood for men, and church tradition requires Latin rite priests to be celibate.
Like many countries in western Europe, Switzerland has seen a steady collapse in the number of Catholic priestly vocations, with fewer than a dozen new diocesan priests ordained each year for the past several years, according to Vatican statistics.
Morerod said his move was about letting “priests do the job of priests” and outsourcing administrative matters to a layperson — irrespective of gender. In a phone interview, Morerod said he hadn’t received any “reproach” from the Vatican over Pohl-Henzen’s appointment.
Pohl-Henzen said some “not very flattering” comments were made about Morerod after her appointment was announced last month, but added that many in her community have congratulated her over it.
Some conservative and traditionalist Catholic commentators in Italy and the United States have claimed that the appointment is ambiguous, since she apparently will be doing the work of a vicar but with a different title.
But the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome, said the title change is crucial, and Morerod clearly is not making her a vicar.
“Marianne Pohl-Henzen seems to have proven her capabilities in bridging diverse language groups that sometimes have conflicts,” he said by e-mail, adding “It’s wonderful that she has the confidence of the bishop.”
Gahl said her appointment to the episcopal council was also to be welcomed, saying it brings “the possibility to offer a new perspective.”
Conservatives’ fear has been heightened because of a push in neighboring Germany to open up even more leadership roles to women and an official dialogue process launched earlier this year between Germany’s bishops and a powerful lay group that is demanding change.
Even traditionally Catholic France is seeing women increasingly protest their second-class status in the church, fueled in part by clergy sexual abuse and cover-up scandals.
In Lyon, Anne Soupa has made a splash with her unprecedented, symbolic, and self-admittedly impossible bid to take up the post of archbishop left vacant after the resignation of former Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. He was convicted, then acquitted, of covering up for a pedophile priest.
Barbarin resigned anyway, saying it was time for change, and Francis accepted the resignation in January.
“My candidacy is not for me, it’s so that other women can take this opportunity and apply,” Soupa said. “So that tomorrow, other women can say ‘I could be bishop, I could be nuncio, I could be priest, I could be deacon.'”
“I think there is a blindness problem inside the Catholic Church,” she added by video call. “Canon law has been written by men and for men, and it’s inconceivable to put women in it. And we are not even given the freedom to think that it could be different.”
Soupa has no chance, since the church’s in-house law and centuries of doctrine say only ordained priests can be bishops and archbishops, since bishops must trace their lineage to Christ’s original apostles.
In addition, one doesn’t campaign to be a bishop, since the vetting process is conducted in secret and directed by the Vatican’s ambassador in consultation with the country’s bishops, for a final decision by the pope.
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.
The conversation began in typical fashion, with a question many grandparents ask: “When you grow up,” Kori Pacyniak’s grandmother wondered, “what would you like to be?”
At that point, the chat took an atypical turn.
“I want to be a priest,” said Kori, then an 8-year-old girl from a devout Polish Catholic family.
Grandmother: “Only boys can be priests.”
Kori: “OK, I want to grow up to be a boy.”
Now 37, Kori Pacyniak no longer wants to be male — or female. Pacyniak now identifies as nonbinary, someone who is not strictly feminine or masculine. (And someone who has abandoned gender-specific pronouns like “he” or “she” in favor of the more inclusive, if sometimes confusing, “they.”)
While Pacyniak left behind standard gender roles, the youthful fascination with the priesthood never faded. On Feb. 1, Pacyniak was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement.
The Rev. Kori Pacyniak is now pastor of San Diego’s Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, a Serra Mesa church that preaches “A New Way to be Catholic.” For this parish, Pacyniak also represents a new way, as they are believed to be the first transgender, nonbinary priest.
Founded in 2005 by Jane Via and Rod Stephens, Mary Magdalene celebrates the Mass with a liturgy that, aside from some tweaks in the wording, would be familiar to most Roman Catholics. The church is not recognized by the San Diego diocese, however, and the Vatican has excommunicated several of the women ordained in what has become a global movement.
Mary Magdalene now has about 120 registered parishioners; 60 to 70 regularly attend 5 p.m. Sunday Mass at the church’s temporary home, Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Most in the congregation were raised as Catholics, yet were disillusioned by the church’s refusal to ordain women. Even among these believers, though, there was some initial hesitation about a nonbinary cleric.
“For some congregants,” said Esther LaPorta, president of Mary Magdalene’s board, “I think at first it might have been something to get used to.”
Among those who have had to adjust: Via, the 73-year-old pastor emeritus.
“I’m struggling to refer to Kori as ‘they,’” Via said. “When there is a single person and we know that is just one person, well, I’ve never used the word ‘they’ for a single person. I know Kori gets frustrated with me at times.”
Usually, though, the priest responds to this confusion with a charitable laugh.
“This is hard?” Pacyniak said. “Learning to spell my last name as a child was hard. Welcome to my world!”
A restless search
Kori Pacyniak grew up in Edison Park, a neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. The tightly-knit Polish community shared a common language, customs and beliefs. Friends, neighbors and family, Kori’s comrades in the Polish Scout troop and Polish folkdancing troupe — all were Catholic.
Like many children, Kori daydreamed about careers. Some days, the goal was to become a Navy SEAL. On other days, a professional soccer goalie. Or a Catholic nun. Always, though, there was the hope that the impossible dream Kori had shared with a grandmother would, somehow, become possible.
“As they went through college and started studying theology, this really became a topic of conversation,” said Basia Pacyniak, 67, Kori’s mother. “It was very much what Kori wanted to do.”
Majoring in religious studies and Portuguese — “no employable skills,” Kori cracked — the undergraduate came out as bisexual. Pacyniak was still searching, though, still examining gender identity and career paths. Although president of Smith’s Newman Association, an off-campus Catholic organization, Pacyniak was frustrated by the church’s positions on women and sexuality.
“Other people wanted to become president,” Pacyniak said. “I wanted to overthrow the Vatican.”
This restlessness continued post-graduation. After an administrative job in Los Angeles, Pacyniak enrolled in Harvard Divinity School’s master’s degree program. The new grad student came out as transgender and started to identify as male. This venture into masculinity was brief and unsatisfactory.
“I realized that box was just as restrictive as female,” Pacyniak said. “Neither male nor female identification works for me.”
For a time, Pacyniak considered converting to a church that, while similar in some ways to Catholicism, ordains women and welcomes LGBTQ clergy. Again, though, something didn’t seem quite right.
“I thought that might be my church home,” Pacyniak said of the Episcopal Church. “But am I too Catholic to be Episcopalian?”
Yet Catholicism posed barriers to Pacyniak. For one thing, Rome only recognizes two genders, male and female. And…
“Right now,” said Kevin Eckery a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, “ordination is only open to natural born males.”
Pacyniak completed studies at Harvard, and later enrolled at Boston University’s School of Theology. There, Pacyniak studied how to minister to LGBTQ military service members in the years following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
But in 2016, a friend forwarded a job listing. Mary Magdalene needed a pastor. Candidates didn’t have to be ordained, if he, she or they were willing to work toward ordination.
In January 2017, Pacyniak began serving as Mary Magdalene’s pastor.
The Rev. Caedmon Grace is a minister at the Metropolitan Church of San Diego, a church that grew out of the LGBTQ community. Even here, there are ongoing discussions about the language of worship.
Consider John 3:16. A familiar New Testament verse, it’s often translated as “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”
“Our practice in the MCC is to use inclusive language,” said Grace. “So that has become ‘For God so loved the world that God sent the begotten one.’ We’re not identifying God as male or female.”
This may not be the translation heard in most Christian churches, yet the emerging field of “queer theology” questions many of the assumptions of traditional religious prayer and practice.
“We have to get out of the hetero-nomative lens we use for understanding everything,” said Pacyniak, who is completing a doctorate in University of California Riverside’s queer and trans theology program. “We have to make trans and queer folks see themselves as part of the liturgy.”
Even at Mary Magdalene, a church that prides itself on its inclusive nature, this requires some work. When Pacyniak arrived, the liturgy included a line, “We believe that all women and men are created in God’s image.”
“This is great,” Pacyniak told Via after Mass. “But for people who don’t identify as women or men, that doesn’t work.”
The line was rewritten: “We believe that all people of all genders are created in God’s image.”
Creating a “spiritual support community” for trans and nonbinary people is a key goal of Mary Magdalene’s newly ordained priest. So is reaching out to the congregation’s men and women.
“Let’s make the tent as big and as open as we can,” Pacyniak said. “It’s an ongoing opportunity. Don’t get too comfortable; have conversations with people on the margins.”
All in good time
Through this past January, Via assisted Pacyniak on the altar during Mass. The new pastor studied, learning theology, liturgy and administrative duties, before being ordained as deacon in June 2019 and then, on Feb. 1, as a priest. More than 100 attended the ordination, so the ceremony was moved from Mary Magdalene’s small space to the soaring Gothic sanctuary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
The pews held Pacyniak’s parents, Basia and Bernard; brother, sister-in-law, two nephews and several cousins; friends from high school, Smith, Harvard and Boston U.; plus dozens of congregants from Mary Magdalene.
“Kori is very open and kind,” said Carol Kramer, who has attended Mary Magdalene for a decade. “I think they’ll be a really good pastor.”
Many religious traditions teach that we’re all created as complex, multi-faceted, beloved children of God. Pacyniak is a pastor and a student of queer theology, yes, but so much more: a baseball fan — with shifting allegiances, from Cubs to Red Sox to Padres — a regular Comic-Con attendee and, this priest insists, a Catholic. This brand of Catholicism may not be recognized by the Vatican, but that doesn’t bother Pacyniak’s parents, who remain practicing Roman Catholics.
“We are very proud of Kori,” said Basia Pacyniak. “The movement and the community is very welcoming, very open, and we are very supportive of that community. I feel that it is not in conflict with the Catholicism that we practice.”
The Pacyniaks foresee a day when their church will include women priests. Give it time, counseled Bernard Pacyniak, 66.
Lots of time.
“I imagine,” he said, “in 100 years this will all be part of one organization.”
The Irish Catholic Church has been likened by a priest to an old car that has gone off the road and “sunk into the bog and is stuck”.
“The engine is still running, but the wheels are spinning and going nowhere,” said Fr Roy Donovan of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), who said it was like the U2 lyric about being “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”.
Fr Donovan, who is parish priest in Cahersonlish, Co Limerick, said “the Catholic Church in its present state is in crisis and doesn’t seem to have any future”.
“There is also something very wrong with priesthood. It is not only young people who have become disassociated from the church as an institution but people across all the generations. The church is not on the radar of most people – it is largely irrelevant.”
He was speaking in Dublin on Monday night at a We are Church Ireland event entitled ‘What Does it Mean to be Catholic Today?’
Fr Donovan asked why the church in Ireland had not carried out research in an attempt to establish why “so many Catholics have become disconnected” with the institution.
“ (Archbishop) Diarmuid Martin remarks that, ‘the low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today’, ” Fr Donovan said.
‘Christendom is over’
“Pope Francis perceptively remarked ‘we are not living in an era of change but a change of era’. Christendom is over, he stated recently. There are huge losses accompanying a change of era.”
Meanwhile “a lot of priests are saying ‘sure it will see me out’ and continue to work out of the old model. There is not enough appetite for change which would require major reversals. We never implemented the Vat 2 (Second Vatican Council) idea of empowering the people.”
Fr Donovan said he did not understand “how a church that attracted some of the best brains in the country as priests could have allowed us to end up where we are today!? What is left of us are tired and haven’t got the energy to change and move on.”
He recalled how “Pope Francis in his Christmas message said ‘the world has changed and so must the church’” but he feared the church was not up “ to the massive changes required”.
“Our systems/ structures/ parishes are no longer fit for purpose. We have too many dioceses, parishes, too many churches – more than we need. We have too many celebrations of masses on Sundays with small gatherings,” he said.