A Redemptorist priest who was suspended by the Vatican for calling for progressive Church reform has said it was “very hurtful” to be told he could not preside over his sister’s funeral.
The latest episode of TG4’s ‘Misneach’ is focused on the life and times of Fr Tony Flannery who was suspended by the Vatican for expressing support for a range of reforms – including woman priests, same-sex marriage and optional celibacy in the priesthood.
Now just over a decade later, the Vatican is hosting a groundbreaking Synod addressing the church's stance on LGBT+ issues, women's ordination and permitting married priests in clergy-scarce regions.
There are hopes the gathering will usher in a new and more inclusive way of thinking for the Church and in a letter published on the eve of the Synod, Pope Francis suggested there could be a way to bless same-sex unions.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Fr Tony Flannery explained how he found himself suspended for calling for something very similar in 2012.
“I'm 76 years of age now and I spent 40 years or thereabouts working full time as a Redemptorist Priest but gradually, as time went on, I began to write articles and books calling for Church reform,” he said.
“In 2012, that caught up with me, the Vatican objected, and they basically sidelined me.
“I wasn't allowed to minister as a priest publicly, and that situation remains the same to this day.
“The ironic thing is that was just before Francis became Pope. Since then, the whole Church has changed and [they are] discussing openly all the issues that I was sidelined about.”
Fr Flannery said the most hurtful thing about his suspension was his inability to preside over his sister’s funeral.
“In the last three years, two of my family - my brother and my sister – died.
“My brother died in Limerick and there wasn't any difficulty about me celebrating the funeral mass – the Bishop of Limerick was very supportive and it all worked out very well.
“Then, two years ago, Geraldine died. She lived in Tuam and she had made it very clear that she wanted me to celebrate her mass wherever it could be.
“She said, ‘You're to do it’ and she said it many times to me so I really had no choice in that one.”
Originally the plan was to hold the funeral in a marquee near his sister's home; however, when that fell through, he asked for permission to hold it at Tuam Cathedral.
The then-Bishop refused permission and Fr Flannery eventually presided over a funeral at Geraldine’s house.
“We used the sunroom at the back where the coffin was and where I said the mass and there were people out in the lawn where they had a good view and where we had speakers and it worked out fine,” he said. “But it was very hurtful.”
Asked if he would ever consider a return to ministry, Fr Flannery said he simply wants an acknowledgement that the process used against him was “totally unjust”.
“I didn't even know what was going on until it was all over and I was condemned and I was sentenced – and then there was no court of appeal,” he said.
“It's a dreadful, medieval system. I would like an acknowledgement that that was wrong.”
He said the priesthood as we know it is now “on the way out anyway”.
“Something new has to develop and maybe priests of my age, if we all retired, we would actually create space for the new to emerge,” he said.
“So that's where I would be thinking on that.”