Vatican laments Irish dissent, silences priests
Apr. 26, 2012
DUBLIN, IRELAND — Just weeks after a report from a Vatican inquiry into the Irish church lamented what it described as “fairly widespread” dissent from church teaching, it was revealed that the Vatican has “silenced” Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery.
The Holy See’s move provoked fury among the members of the 800-strong Association of Catholic Priests, which has accused the Vatican of issuing a fatwa against liberal clerics.
It’s not exactly clear why Flannery, a popular author and retreat director, has come under Vatican suspicion. He has voiced support in the past for opening up debates around the ordination of women, a change to the church’s ban on artificial birth control and an end to mandatory celibacy. He also provoked dismay among senior Irish bishops when he publicly backed Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s 2011 attack on the Vatican in the wake of the report into the mishandling of clerical abuse in the Cloyne diocese. Kenny accused the Vatican of “dysfunction,” “disconnection,” “elitism” and “narcissism.” Flannery described the speech as “wonderful.”
By acting against Flannery now, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may well have scored an own goal by provoking the ire of the priests’ association. As well as his retreat work, Flannery is a founder of the association, which now represents some 20 percent of Ireland’s clergy. Since its founding less than two years ago, the group has campaigned for liberal reforms in the church and is due to hold a national assembly in early May to harness momentum. Key priorities for the group include “a re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching” and “a redesigning of ministry in the Church, in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.”
Flannery is the latest Irish priest to face Vatican censure. In mid-April, it was revealed that moral theologian Fr. Seán Fagan had been silenced by the Vatican two years ago. His Marist order even took the bizarre step of buying up unsold copies of his 2008 book What Happened to Sin?.
Capuchin Fr. Owen O’Sullivan also fell foul of the doctrinal congregation in late 2010 after he published an article suggesting that homosexuality is “simply a facet of the human condition.”
More of the same is likely to be in the cards given some of the findings of the apostolic visitation, published on March 19. The summary of the document — oddly, only four of Ireland’s 27 serving bishops have seen the full report — warned that “dissent from the fundamental teachings of the Church is not the authentic path towards renewal.”
The tendency “among priests, religious, and laity, to hold theological opinions at variance with the teachings of the Magisterium” required, the visitation concluded, “particular attention directed principally towards improved theological formation.”
A war of words has now broken out — of sorts, since no one of the Vatican side of the argument is speaking at all. Renowned ecologist Fr. Seán McDonagh, a member of the priests’ association’s leadership team, accused the Holy See of “outrageous” behavior in silencing of the clerics.
He accused the Vatican of “throwing a fatwa” at the priests and said that some of Rome’s recent actions were like a return to the Inquisition.
“This isn’t the time for heresy-hunting,” he warned.
The association has rallied behind Flannery, insisting, “This intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise.”
The association has also resisted attempts to cast it simply as a liberal pressure group. “The issues surfaced by the ACP since its foundation less than two years ago and by Tony Flannery as part of the leadership team are not an attack on or a rejection of the fundamental teachings of the Church. Rather they are an important reflection by an association of over 800 Irish priests — who have given long service to the Catholic Church in Ireland — on issues surfacing in parishes all over the country,” the group said in a statement.
A recent survey commissioned by the association seems to demonstrate that the priests are not the Irish church’s only restive members. While weekly Mass attendance is still relatively high, three out of four people who identify themselves as Catholic say they find the church’s teaching on sexuality “irrelevant.”
The survey — conducted by the respected research association Amarach — also showed that almost 90 percent of those surveyed believe that divorced or separated Catholics in a stable second relationship ought to be able to receive Communion at Mass.
The figures were compiled from a sample of 1,000 Catholics and, according to researchers, have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
According to the results, 35 percent of those surveyed attend Mass at least once a week; 51 percent attend at least once a month. Just 5 percent of Irish people who identify themselves as Catholics never attend Mass.
Eighty-seven percent disagreed with church teaching on an unmarried priesthood and said they believed that the church ought to allow priests to get married, while 77 percent said the church should admit women to the priesthood.
When asked “to what extent do you agree with the Catholic church’s teaching that any sexual expression of love between a gay couple is immoral,” 61 percent said they disagreed while 18 percent of those surveyed believed homosexual acts to be immoral.
Seeming to set himself on a collision course with the Vatican, McDonagh said the survey “confirms that those who are advocating for change in the church are not a tiny minority, but are, in fact, at the heart of the church.”
He said Irish Catholics are “crying out for change and do not want the church to go backward, but to move forward and change.”
A spokesman for the Irish bishops’ conference, pointedly not commenting directly on the findings, said, “The results of this survey confirm the importance of all in the church taking up this task in a spirit of communion and sharing the good news of the Gospel in a rapidly changing social and cultural environment in Ireland today.”
The Vatican seems to be drawing a clear line in the sand. From Rome’s point of view, whatever the future shape of Irish Catholicism will be, it must be a future marked by greater adherence to church teaching. The Association of Catholic Priests strikes a decidedly different note. This Vatican approach, it warns, “may have the unintended effect of exacerbating a growing perception of a significant ‘disconnect’ between the Irish church and Rome.”
[Michael Kelly is deputy editor of The Irish Catholic, an independent, lay-owned weekly newspaper.]
Griffin: An amazing journey of forgiveness
Michael Mack is a man of many credits as a writer and theatrical performer. Now age 55, he has also accomplished two things in the spiritual realm that rank as unique in my experience.
First, despite suffering sexual abuse as a boy at the hands of a Catholic priest, he is now an active member of the church and values its spirituality. All the other victims of clergy abuse I have known have distanced themselves from this faith community, most with continuing and understandable anger.
Michael’s second achievement strikes me as even more remarkable. He has forgiven the priest who violated him.
In a long interview with Michael, I found his account of both events fascinating. The violation took place when he was 11 years old, the forgiveness when he had reached middle age.
Incidentally, the reason for our being in touch was a scheduled performance of Michael’s one-person play “Conversations with My Molester – a Journey of Faith.” It was to be staged at the playwright’s parish, St.Paul’s in Cambridge.
Just before sending this column off, I actually saw the play along with an unexpectedly large audience. We found it spellbinding. Adding to the meaning of the occasion, an official of the Archdiocese of Boston responsible for overseeing child protection, Barbara Thorp, was present and took part in the discussion at the end.
The sexual violation of the boy Michael took place in Brevard, North Carolina, a small town in the western part of the state. Because their mother was ill, he and his siblings spent a year living with their aunt and her family there, rather than back home in Washington D.C.
The boy loved his parish church in North Carolina and envisioned himself becoming a priest someday. He soon became close to the pastor, the person who took Michael to his first basketball game, and acted toward him like a “surrogate dad.”
One day, the boy wandered into the church basement and sat down to play the piano. Then the priest appeared and invited Michael to come to the rectory. Once in this house, the priest brought the boy into a room, closed the door, and took advantage of the child’s innocence.
Days later, the priest left the parish and Michael, too, moved from Brevard soon afterward. “I left that day confused,” he recalls. “I felt that something big had just happened — something not right.”
Later, as a teenager, he was to experience something much worse, what he calls “self-loathing.”
As to the priest who assaulted him sexually, Michael lost complete contact with him for decades. But when he moved to Boston some 10 years ago, Michael made an astounding discovery.
The priest was also living in Massachusetts, not too far away in the orbit of Worcester. Though not defrocked, he was no long performing priestly ministry.
Michael’s repeated efforts to reach the priest were ultimately connected with a spiritual change in Michael’s heart. He had been moved to forgive the priest for what he had done.
As I listened to Michael’s story, I felt moved by his sincerity and his spiritual courage. He had managed to offer forgiveness to someone who, behind the full force of priestly status, had done him terrible harm.
Michael tells of going to the priest’s funeral. It was his first time in many years back in a Catholic church. There the man who had violated him and others was extolled as a good priest. Despite his forgiveness, Michael found it bizarre to hear his molester praised.
One of our problems being victims of priest sexual abuse is most of us resort to substance abuse to deal with the pain and horror we have to hide.
To understand our pain, you would have to understand the betrayal that was perpetrated upon us.
I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, attending St Charles Catholic Church in Dover NH. I received my First Communion and Confession there. I also went to a catholic school until we had to start going to Horne Street because the school burned down. It is drilled into your head from the very beginning that the priest, nuns and all the officials of the Roman Catholic Church are like speaking directly to God himself. Those punishments of the penguins you hear about, the rapping of the knuckles with the rulers, or sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on are all true. They controlled your life, you believed EVERYTHING they said to you and if you questioned them……well you just did not question them.
I will not get into it but I left home at the age of 13. I went from one group home to a couple of foster homes. The last foster home I was in was an incredibly abusive uptight, right wing southern baptist bible thumpers. I only stayed a week or so and ran away. I spent the night with two girls I grew up with and the next day the police department bought me to St Thomas Moore’s church in Durham until the social worker they had assigned me to got me into Teen Haven group home in Rochester NH the next day.
That night changed my life forever. I will not get into the particulars of the rape, except to say he made me perform oral and receive anal and oral from him. What I will talk about is the psychology of the rape. All the while he was assaulting me, he kept telling me to say the Our Father and the Hail Mary. He also told me over and over again that no one would believe me over his word as a priest. Then he told me if I ever did tell anyone I would die and go to hell. He gave me the reason for doing this to me was to cleanse me of breaking the commandment of honoring my mother and my father. I remember the whole time he was raping me I was screaming inside for God and Jesus Christ to stop him, I begged them to make him stop, but they did not hear my cries of pain and shame. Now can you imagine this being done to you?
Here you are, confused, scared because even before I got to the church I was scared outta my wits because I did not know if they were going to send me to juvie in Manchester. Also I knew very well what he was saying was true. No one would ever believe me what he was doing to me. As for my going to hell, well, again, hell was VERY REAL to me even at that age. I grew up in the 60’s, imagine the reality of hell to a young roman catholic boy. Dante’s Inferno was real to me. Now I was being raped by a priest who was supposed to protect me for one single night, but he allowed his perversions and sexual needs to overcome his common sense.
This priest took total control of my heart, my soul, my body and my mind.
I want to share with you one of the nightmares I started suffering right after I did tell a friend at the boarding school I eventually ended up at.
I am walking through the mist and woods and find myself coming to a cemetery. I hear moaning but I think it is more the wind I hear going through the trees around me. I see a shadow, then another one, glimpses of ragged shapes in the fog and mist around me. All of a sudden I feel something brush against my right calf. Then something grabs both of my feet and pull them out from under me. I land in some type of stinky goop, not really mud, almost smelling like an well used outhouse. As I struggle to get out of it, I only sink more into it, it is almost like quick sand but the harder I try to fight it, the more I sink into the stink. As I do these dead, decayed arms reach out of it and grab around me. My legs, my waist, my arms and shoulders and head are pinned and slowly they start to pull me deeper into the goop.I remember looking up trying to take a deep breath for my lungs and as I do a few half rotten skulls come out of the goop and start to laugh this hysterical laugh. All I hear over their laughing is you are going to hell in the air around me.
I am dragged deeper and deeper into the goop. My nostrils, mouth and throat starts to fill with it. I am gagging and trying to breath but I can’t. I am not dying though, I know this, but I cannot breath and I only wish to die. It goes on for what seems like minutes. Eventually I come out of the bottom of the goop, straight into the very pits of hell itself. I am gasping for breath but all I get is heated air from the pit. There is fire and screaming and moaning and pain. I can feel it in every part of my being. My heart goes out to the pain and suffering I hear. My soul weeps for it all. I hear all kinds of sounds that scare the living daylights out of me. Sounds of torture and screams and cries of why, why?
I am seeing even children being tortured, all of them screaming and crying out for God and Jesus Christ to save them, just like I had done while the priest was raping me, yet even here too, these beings we all believed in and prayed to did not hear these young innocent cries of the children. I wept for them like I had never wept for anyone before. My tears are all hot from the fires and pain and horrors I am witnessing.
The heat of the fires are scorching me but not burning me. In a way the goop that is all over me protects me from the full heat of the blaze. All of a sudden three demons dressed as priests grab me and drag me to a room. There is an assembly of men, all of them from the rulers of the roman catholic church.
I cannot repeat the things they say to me or the things they did to me in that room. Suffice it to say that it is ten thousand times worse than what the priest did to me. I can only say think of the tortures and sadism of the Inquisitions That is just a small idea of what these perverts of religion did to me for speaking out against the evil they do. I still cannot deal with some of these nightmares. I think though you can use your own imagination with what I have already told you to understand why I cannot tell this part of the nightmare. It is still too painful, even after 34 years, they are still too painful to deal with yet.
When I wake up from one of these nightmares, I am covered in sweat and just twisted. The nightmares are very real to me. It is no wonder that I turned to drugs and alcohol to block these nightmares because it seemed these were the only substances that I could use to block them? Most of us victims of these priests do. It takes a lot of therapy to learn how to deal with nightmares like I have….and I know many other victims have of these perverted priests.
For decades I took any and all drugs and drank anything I could. My poisons were mostly weed, crown royal and molson ale. I remember some friend and I counted all the blue bags I had saved from the crown royal I drank in one year. It was over 200 bags. That is a lot of alcohol if you ask me considering I normally drank about a six pack or a 12 pack of molson with it. Plus all the weed I used to smoke. I prided myself on being able to out smoke and put anyone under the table. I remember smoking through a quarter pound of really boss herb in ten days and buying two more ounces and smoking that within another week.
I am now pretty much clean and sober. I really no longer drink. Maybe a six pack if I am lucky every four or so months. Heck I bought a bottle of smirnoff and peach snapps two new years ago and they still sit half drank in my fridge. I learned through my nature and wildlife photography, my love of nature and backpacking, that I can find other ways of “escaping” the pains of the past and looking at beauty again.
I lived in ugliness for many many decades. Through my nature and wildlife photography I have started finding the real beauty of the world around me again.
I also would love to ask his High Unholiness Papal Bullshitter Pope Benedict, or many of the bishops and arch bishops and priests who did this to us children and teens, how they would feel to have even ONE of my nightmares, let alone where you have these kinds of nightmares over and over again for weeks at a time. Is it no wonder I became an insomniac? Is it no wonder why I turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with all of this?
Right after this priest raped me I became a pyromaniac. I burned a lot of things. I even got arrested at 14, about two or three weeks later for burning a box truck at the railroad tracks right down from the Teen Haven group home which got me sent to Austin Cate Academy in Center Strafford New Hampshire.
I would also love to hear how sorry the Papal Bullshitter is right to my face. Yet he is too punk and believes that child pornography and sex between an adult and child is considered normal, his very own words he gave in his christmas address. If you do not believe this, just google it and you will see I am right.
So Papal Bullshitter, Pope Benedict, what do you say? Care to have a couple of my nightmares? Oh no I already know what your doom is. Seeing you protected those who harmed innocent children. Seeing you allowed these perversions to happen and covered it up. Seeing you do not care about the suffering of us children. Well you are going to be spending a long eternity in the very hell of the nightmares I have had to endure in my life. I see you in the goop Unhonorable Papal Bullshitter, with your bishops and priests all around you, getting more than pitchforks shoved up your anal cavities.