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'The Church is in a state of utter collapse': Irish priests at odds with Vatican speak out

Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Sean McDonagh have sharply criticised how the Vatican treats clergy and, in particular, women.

Fr Tony Flannery
Fr Tony Flannery
Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

TWO PRIESTS HAVE said the Vatican should change how it deals with clergy and lay people.

Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Sean McDonagh, co-founders of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, have both been at odds with the Vatican on more than one occasion.

Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio 1 today, they said the Catholic Church also needs to apologise for how it has treated women and give them more power in the Church.

Flannery (70) said his first public mass in over four years last week to mark 40 years in the priesthood. He was banned from saying mass publicly in 2012, after some people in the Vatican took issue with his stance on certain subjects.

In February 2012, I became aware that the Vatican objected to some of my writings … In particular one that I had written just after the Cloyne Report, when Ireland was in a fervour about the whole cleric sexual abuse issue, and, in that context, I had written a sentence that went something like this: ‘The priesthood as we have it now is not as Jesus intended it to be’.

Flannery said he thought the statement was “about as obvious a point as you could possibly make”, but the comment was taken out of context and the article “landed in an office in the Vatican”.

He also took issue with how the Catholic Church approaches other topics, such as teachings on homosexuality, contraception and women’s ordination.

Flannery said the Vatican never contacted him directly before barring him from saying mass in public. He described the way the Church’s hierarchy deals with priests like him as “completely unjust and abusive”.

Pope’s visit 

Today the Sunday Times reported that Taoiseach Enda Kenny has asked Pope Francis to review the cases of five priests in Ireland disciplined by the Catholic Church, including Flannery and Fr Brian D’Arcy, in a bid to “improve the environment” for the papal visit to the country next year.

Flannery said he’s grateful to Kenny for intervening but, even if the Vatican pardoned him to coincide with the Pope’s visit, he would still be “very unhappy” as the way the Vatican deals with priests would not have been addressed, adding: “That’s my big beef.”

He said he understands Pope Francis is “quite unhappy” with how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith operates and has “largely sidelined them”, but he’s not sure if the pope has the power or time “to really change” how they operate.

Flannery said he is ”very much in tune with Pope Francis” and how he approaches things, much more so than some Cardinals.

‘A huge apology to women’

McDonagh backed up Flannery and took particular issue with how the Church has treated women, saying: “One of the greatest scandals of the Church is, from the New Testament period right up to now, how the Church treated women.

Women are the elephant in the Church’s reality at the moment. They have to be brought into the structures of governance … the Church has to make a huge apology to women.

McDonagh said the Church should be striving for an equal gender split in terms of the people who govern it.

He also criticised how the Vatican “forced” an “appalling translation of the Latin mass” onto English-speaking churches, further alienating lay people.

‘Utter collapse’ 

McDonagh noted that when he was he was a student in the seminary in Maynooth there were about 600 students, where there are only around 30 now.

Flannery said the Church in Ireland is “in a state of utter collapse”, with people “leaving the Church in droves”, and action is needed to change this.

When asked if he has ever considered leaving the Church, Flannery said “absolutely not”. However, when asked if he would join the priesthood in the first place if, as a younger man, he knew what he knew now, he said he would not.

Flannery said the Church has “blatantly” disrespected women and, if he could live his life again, would like to have got married.

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