Leading priests who disagreed with Pope Benedict admit it will be ‘very hard to mourn’ his death

Former pope drew strong criticism for Church’s views on homosexuality and women priests

Fr Tony Flannery says he suffered ‘at the hands of a system shaped and defined by Cardinal Ratzinger’.

By Sarah Mac Donald

Several leading Irish priests who clashed with Pope Benedict’s stance on key issues admit it will be “very hard” to mourn his death.

he issues over which they strongly differed range from women priests to the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Censured priest Fr Tony Flannery, who was put out of ministry during the papacy of Benedict, said he had suffered “at the hands of a system shaped and defined by Cardinal Ratzinger”, so he “doesn’t really feel much regret at his death”.

The 75-year-old Redemptorist priest said he was “one of the Irish people whose life has been most significantly affected by his [Benedict’s] attitudes and his exercise of power”.

Fr Flannery has been forbidden to exercise his ministry as a priest since 2012 over his views on women priests and the church’s teaching on homosexuality and contraception.

He noted the impact of Benedict’s papacy, from 2005 to 2013, and his time as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office on theologians, priests, religious and lay people who, like Fr Flannery, were punished for their writings on matters relating to church doctrine and various aspects of the faith.

“I wouldn’t even attempt to measure the negative impact his teaching and action had on LGBTQ people, and on those abused by priests and religious,” he said.

Fr Roy Donovan, of the Association of Catholic Priests, said he found it “very hard to mourn” for Benedict and remained “very angry” over his pontificate and his time as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF).

Referring to Benedict’s negative comments on gay people and his silencing of those with whom he disagreed, Fr Donovan asked: “What was he afraid of? Why did he need to adopt an approach of circling the wagons? With his intellect, why could he not listen and debate opposing views?”

His comment was echoed by Fr Iggy O’Donovan. He said that the German pontiff, who died on Saturday, had led a “McCarthy-type purge of fellow scholars”.

He said: “It was on his watch at the CDF that [theologian] Hans Kung, his one-time colleague, was stripped of his right to teach Catholic theology. Think of [Leonardo] Boff and [Gustavo] Gutierrez, the liberation theology scholars. Our own Fr Sean Fagan was hounded to his death.”

Fr O’Donovan said that the staunchly traditionalist theologian who succeeded John Paul II was “brilliant” but had inflicted great damage.

Separately, the reform group, We Are Church Ireland, has described Pope Benedict as “a highly contradictory theologian who shaped the Roman Catholic Church for decades in a backward-looking way like no other post-conciliar church leader”.

In a statement, Colm Holmes said Benedict, whose funeral takes place on Thursday, had left “a climate of fear”.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has revealed that Benedict’s last words were “Lord, I love you.”

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict’s long-time secretary who lived in the Vatican monastery where the former pope took up residence after his 2013 retirement, said a nurse heard the late cleric utter those words about 3am on Saturday.

He died later that morning about 9.30am local time.

“Benedict XVI, with a faint voice but in a very distinct way, said in Italian, ‘Lord, I love you,’” Archbishop Gaenswein said, adding that it happened when the aides tending to Benedict were changing shifts.

“I wasn’t there in that moment, but the nurse a little later recounted it,” the archbishop said.

“They were his last comprehensible words, because afterwards, he wasn’t able to express himself any more.”

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