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The Word on the Week

Fr Tony Flannery

In the midst of all the razzmatazz surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Titanic this week you may have missed another sinking which took place– that of Tony Flannery.

The elderly Redemptorist Priest has been singled out for improved theological formation. In other word he has to get in line! This all stems from the report of the Apostolic visitation to examine the condition of the Irish Catholic church in the wake of the clerical child sex abuse scandal.

The Vatican doesn’t announce the terms of reference, process, or duration of its investigation, but it seems he will undergo six weeks of silent reflection in a monastery and be allowed, thereafter, to resume writing and speaking, as long as he steers clear of contentious subjects and his work passes the censor.

So what has drawn the Pope’s ire upon this man? Apparently he is one of the founders of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, a liberal organisation of around 800 Priests whose views on contemporary subjects do not meet with the approval the Vatican. These subjects include homosexuality, contraception, celibacy of priests, and the ordination of women priests.

The Vatican has been accused of heresy-hunting by the local Archbishop and there appears to be a lingering annoyance here that Rome has never acknowledged its part in the sex-abuse cover-up.

All this is a bit bewildering to the onlooker as it seems the Catholic church is simply doing what its there to do, namely manage its priests. Vows of obedience are not negotiable ideas. The tail doesn’t wag the dog!

What does the Bible say to these things?

First of all we must admit that controversy is not unknown in other churches! It goes back a long way.

Indeed in the letter to the church in Galatia St Paul took issue with St Peter when he saw they were not acting in line with the Gospel over the matter of circumcision. (Galatians Chapter 2 verses 11 to 20) Of course St Paul’s conclusion to that argument puts the nail into the coffin of the notion that any religious works can earn righteousness – “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

But what of Tony Flannery as he does his 6 week stint? Perhaps he could reflect on the saying; Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and charity in all things. Essentials are those things that are necessary for salvation, the recognition of the trinity the deity of Christ, his atoning death for sinners, who are spiritually dead and need to be born again.

The non-essentials? All the nonsense trumpeted by pressure groups in the media who have supplanted the Bible in declaring what is and what isn’t Christian behaviour.

And charity? That ability can only come to us by the grace of God our creator and redeemer of whom it was said (in the midst of the confusion and turmoil of His last week on earth) “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”