It’s been a busy few weeks in Killeagh. As has been reported in The Irish Times and The Irish Examiner, we have entered a bit of controversy. For clarity (there are a few versions out there) I’ve outlined the sequence of events that have led to Bishop Crean asking our Parish Pastoral Council to withdraw its invitation to Fr. Tony Flannery.
- In April/May our Parish Pastoral Council decided to hold a parish mission in September, and give it the title ‘Spiritfest’. So far so good.
- We then formed a sub-committee to organise the weekend, and I became a member of that sub-committee.
- In May we met to discuss the format, and as part of that we looked at our Friday night as being opened with a speaker who would give a talk, followed by a Question and Answer Session. As we fished around for names we came up with Fr. Tony Flannery.
- Why Tony? A few reasons. He is a man who has had a lot to say on a number of Social Justice Issues. He is a man who has been led by his faith to challenge the Church’s teaching on these same Social Justice Issues. And He is a man who has been punished for his beliefs.
- So in May we extended our invitation to Tony, and went ahead with planning the rest of the event. (you know, the nitty gritty: microphones, stewards, timetables and tents)
- We began to make little noises of our upcoming event: A facebook page, announcements in our Parish Newsletter, and so on.
- One group heard of this and contacted our Bishop to complain about our Parish Priest and our invite to Fr. Flannery. This group referred themselves as being ‘concerned Catholics’. Personally, seeing as none of them are from Killeagh, I reckon ‘busybodies’ may be a more apt moniker.
- And then, in July, Bishop William Crean contacted our Parish Priest to state that he had heard about our invitation to Tony Flannery, and was concerned about it going ahead – because Tony Flannery is ‘out of ministry’. He asked that we withdraw our invitation.
- We had a meeting of the Sub-Committee to discuss this and decided to write to the bishop that we would agree partially to his request. We would not have Tony speak in Killeagh Church, but we would instead host him in our local Community Hall.
- Last Week Bishop Crean asked to meet us, so we convened a special meeting of our Pastoral Council. During the meeting Bishop Crean started by praising the initiative, and then went into his difficulties with our invite to Tony Flannery.
Bishop Crean was pretty clear from the start in his reasoning. Tony Flannery is out of ministry, and the policy of Cloyne Diocese is that a priest who is out of ministry does not get involved in any form of public ministry.
- As the invite to Tony was under the auspices of the Pastoral Council, then his invite, even if it was to the local hall, it counted as ministry. The bishop basically outlined what was to become his official statement on the matter.
- We had the chance to say to the bishop how disappointed we were with this turn of events. We had acted in good faith, and besides that, we didn’t agree with the manner of Tony’s silencing.
- As the meeting progressed, we also voiced that we did not want to be in conflict with the Bishop – we did not want a fractured relationship.
- We then had a vote and decided, unanimously, to agree to the Bishop’s request.
- That night we phoned Tony and let him know that we were withdrawing the invitation.
And that’s how it all happened. End of story.
Except, of course, the story does not end there. It did not even begin there.
In a way what happened in Killeagh simply acts as a focus for a number of issues in the Catholic Church.
The Action Against Tony Flannery.
In 2012 Tony Flannery was removed from ministry. An action was taken against him without any form of a trial. Tony has never been given a chance to defend himself from the charges made against him. I’m not sure if the charges were even made clear.
The Role of the Hierarchy
I don’t know how often bishops take the time to visit pastoral councils. But I’m pretty certain that it’s a rarity. I don’t know whether the Bishop acted on his own initiative, or if there were other voices within the hierarchy of the Irish Church playing a part.
The place of Lay People
I am (obviously) a lay person. I play a part in my own parish, and I value my faith. I still have a copy of Christifideles Laici somewhere. A document that exhorts the role of Lay People in the Church.
And yet I know that lay people can be oh so easily overruled in the Church. Even in my own parish, where we have a Parish Priest who supports wholeheartedly the role of lay people, we know that a different priest who has a different set of beliefs could easily disband us.
The laity have a place, but sometimes this is overruled at the whim of their local priest.
Just What Is The Church
Many of those who give out about the Church really intend their criticism at the organisation. However, the Church is made up of its members. Those of us who profess a faith are the church.
And this brings a conflict.
If we believe we are the church, how do we reconcile with the centralised authority of Rome?
The question can become, ‘What is Catholic?’
One definition will tell you that Catholic is ‘universal in extent, involving all’. So here’s another angle – does this definition of Catholic mean that everyone should come under one umbrella, and its authority, or should the umbrella shelter all.
That is a paradigm shift. It moves the Church from being authoritarian to open. And this isn’t going to be easy. After all, those at the centre of the umbrella believe rigidity is the way to go. Those at the edges know you’re going to get wet, and that some flexibility is needed.
Still, change is something that has started, and will continue.
Silencing Tony Flannery will not stop this change.
The Local Fallout
The ultimate stoic would now state that ‘we are where we are’. And that statement would not reflect the real state of affairs.
There has been a lot of local coverage – and the Bishop is getting plenty of flack over what has happened.
People have been polarised – I have received emails both in favour and against what has happened. (one stating that we should never have invited the ‘heretic’)
Yes, many of us have been upset or disappointed by our Bishop’s decision.
And yes, we may even get angry. Some will turn from the Church as a result.
However, disappointment and anger are normal parts of life. We will get over this – and at this point we need to look to what type of church we want to be part of. As for Spiritfest 2015? It’s going ahead, of course.
Maybe the debate due to be hosted by Tony Flannery has already started.