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Column Are we as a Catholic Church not mature enough to listen to others?

The Vatican is investigating Fr Tony Flannery over his liberal views. But censorship is not a Christian solution, writes Fr Jimmy McPhillips.

Last week it emerged that The Vatican has put Fr Tony Flannery under investigation over his perceived liberal views – including support for Enda Kenny’s criticism of the Holy See last year.

Here Fr Jimmy McPhillips, a priest in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan and a fellow member with Fr Flannery of the Association of Catholic Priests, argues that the Church needs to seriously reconsider its attitude to dissent.

I ARRIVED INTO the Parochial House after spending some time with Jesus in the Garden. It was Holy Thursday night. He didn’t know what He was facing. Maybe the ordeal of arrest, false accusation, condemnation, suffering, and death; for he had continued saying what the religious authorities did not want to hear.

He had just given us the Eucharist, ordained priesthood, His new commandment ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, and His example of humble service. I picked up my iPad to read the Journal as I do at the end of each day, and there in-front of me was the headline, ‘Priest confirms that he is under Vatican investigation’.

I am saddened that Fr Tony is now being censored. I also admit to feeling shock, anger, and a little fear. As a member of the ACP – like the other 900 plus – we too are now open to censorship or worse still being ‘silenced’.

While I may not always agree with what Fr Tony says or believes, I still respect and defend his right to hold those views and express them. Is this not part of what it means to be Christian? Are we as a Catholic Church not mature enough to listen to other opinions? We may not be a democracy, but we are certainly not a totalitarian regime!

As a ‘Northerner’, I ask can our Church not learn lessons from what has happened in this part of our homeland? The terrible conflict was brought to an end through respecting other people’s opinions, other cultures, and other traditions. Resolution was through respectful dialogue.

‘Censorship is not a truly Christian way to encourage fidelity’

As a Church and institution, we have witnessed many changes over the centuries to our credit. We have changed positions many times. Former ‘sacred cows’ were dumped on the scrap heap of misguided practices and now are bad memories. Some present ‘sacred cow’ issues will change in time too. Many have already begun that great voyage. The argument for mandatory celibacy, for example, lost credence the day we accepted Anglican clergy into Catholic priesthood.

Leadership is integral to the Church to shepherd people socially, spiritually, and morally, and so our need to reflect. Perhaps in their thinking, the ‘Christi fideles laici’ have left us behind in many of these areas! Isn’t ‘Sensus Fidelium’ still the ultimate authority in Church teaching?

Censorship or ‘silencing’ is not a truly Christian way to encourage fidelity, resolve differences, or correct perceived errors in modern times. In fact, it can be counter –productive. It rarely has the desired effect in silencing alternative interpretations and opinions. It may force conformity, but seldom promotes truth or inner conversion. It may result in increased indifference and apathy among clergy and lay faithful.

Finally, my experience of growing up in the Northern conflict situation was that one man’s hero was another man’s terrorist. People like Tony Flannery may be our modern day prophets. We need both prophets and a new approach to resolving differences. Let us be a more listening leadership/Church, and less reactionary.

Fr Jimmy McPhillips is a priest in Killanny, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. This post originally appeared on the Association of Catholic Priests website.

Fr Jimmy McPhillips
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