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Priest 'won't back down' to Vatican

Fr Tony Flannery has been censured by the Catholic Church.

A Catholic priest has said he is being threatened with excommunication by the Vatican for not backing down over his liberal views.

Thursday, 07 February 2013
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Tony Flannery, 66, is a high-profile and well known priest who has previously spoken out of line with the Church's stance on hot topics such as contraception and homosexuality.

The Galway Redemptorist priest revealed last month that he was ordered to sign a pledge by the church that he supports their teachings.

He can now no longer minister as a priest and is being threatened with excommunication by the Vatican.

"They wanted me to sign and publish a document on these issues stating that I accepted fully the Vatican's position on them which I wouldn't have been able to do without turning my back on things I've been saying for 30 years," he explained.

"It was a very difficult year for me, for most of the year I was forbidden to minister as a priest and then as it went on I was told that I would never again minister as a priest unless I gave them the statement that they were looking for."

"To be told that you can no longer do what you had done all your life and what you had loved doing was very difficult."

He says that he has received a lot of support from his family, colleagues, and parishioners since going public about the rift.

He said: "I have been getting massive support from the Catholic people in Ireland through the last 11 months, all that has been a great help."

I cannot violate my conscience and I have to be able to live with myself for the rest of my life. If you lose your integrity, you lose your sense of respect for yourself.

Father Tony Flannery

Another priest who was censured by the Vatican was Father Brian D'arcy.

The popular Fermanagh preacher was reprimanded for his views on priests being able to marry and his criticism of the child abuse scandals.

"I felt saddened that after 50 years of giving your life to an organisation that some person thought I was untrustworthy," he said at the time.

"It was very hurtful."

Fr D'arcy vowed to continue his work in the media, despite being ordered that he must have all contributions to the media approved by the Vatican, but he was allowed to keep practicing.

Irish Times journalist, Patsy McGarry claims the Vatican has taken a hard line with priests stepping out of line with the church.

"Fr Tony Flannery would be a very popular figure in Ireland, he would be very well known," he told UTV.

"He is one of quite a number of prominent priests who have been silenced by the Church in recent times, all of whom have a number of things in common.

"They tended to be sympathetic to people who are having difficulty with church teachings on issues such as contraception, women in the priesthood, teaching on homosexuality.

"They tended to be more compassionate in their interpretation of church teachings and this is reflected in their writings."

Mr McGarry said that Rome has been tough on bringing these priests in line with the orthodoxy as part of a response to recent crises.

"Rome it seems is blaming a liberal interpretation of church teaching for the abuse that took place in the Irish Catholic Church involving priests going back decades," he claimed.

"The implication being, that people were too liberal in their interpretation, too tolerant in their application of church teaching, if they had been rigorous in terms of church law, in terms of church dogma, this wouldn't have happened.

"It doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It is frankly nonsensical because some of the bishops who oversaw the abuse in for instance, the Dublin archdiocese and in Cloyne archdiocese, would be among the most orthodox men, conservative Irish catholic leaders we have had in the 21st century."

Fr Flannery is intent on standing by his words, but he admitted the decision has been very "lonely and personal".

He said the ban from active priesthood has been the worst consequence for him and that if the ban is not lifted, he will need to "move on".

The priest said his faith remains unfaltering, and that he sees a distinction between God and the church.

"No matter what the church does to me, nothing can become between me and my faith in God."