Debating dogma: Fr. Flannery pays high price for freedom of speech

Thought I’d hit ya with a few of my published articles. Here’s a commentary I originally wrote for The University News a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Nearly a year of silence was broken last week when Irish Catholic priest Tony Flannery published an article in The Irish Times describing the ethical dilemma he faced since being ordered by the Vatican’s doctrinal office that he must recant his statements about women’s role in the Catholic Church.

Flannery is a well-known Redemptorist priest in Ireland and a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests. He has been known for fostering a free dialogue within his congregation and keeps an open mind when it comes to “taboo” issues in Catholicism – mainly women being ordained as priests, as well as issues surrounding homosexuality and contraception.

Though Flannery preached and wrote for over 40 years, it wasn’t until last February that he was summoned to Rome to meet with the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF). It was there that Flannery was told by Vatican authorities that he could not continue to minister unless he changed his opinions to reflect the official teachings of the Catholic Church. According to Flannery, he first tried to compromise with the CDF, but in September of 2011, the group demanded that he write, sign and publish a statement about his Catholic beliefs, explicitly agreeing that it is the will of God for only men to be ordained as priests and that he accepts the whole teachings of the Catholic Church regarding moral issues.

Flannery responded to the document presented to him by the CDF, but refused to fully express his support for the Church’s teaching that only men should be chosen to serve as priests. He also questioned the perceived closed-mindedness of the Church in regards to moral issues of sexuality.

Flannery’s main argument was not necessarily that women should be ordained as priests or that homosexuality should be accepted by the whole Church. Rather, he argued for the exercise of free speech and open dialogue within the Church. He believed that perhaps it was the Holy Spirit who was speaking through the members of the Catholic faith who disagreed with outdated Catholic rules and regulations.

In his article published in The Irish Times, Flannery said, “So now, at this hour of my life, I either put my name to a document that would be a lie, and would impugn my integrity and my conscience, or I face the reality of never again ministering as a priest…But to give up on freedom of thought, freedom of speech and most especially freedom of conscience is too high a price for me to pay to be allowed minister in today’s church.”

I am a Catholic, and I stand with Fr. Flannery. For too long, the Catholic Church has fostered an environment of discrimination, judgment and fear, when we as Catholics should be doing just the opposite.

I have always been open-minded and aware of other religions and have chosen to remain a Catholic because I believe in Catholicism at its core – humans looking out for fellow humans. Men and women who choose to look past the outward appearance and stereotypes surrounding others and help them, love them, exactly as they are, as another child of the universe – one who deserves the same respect and rights as anyone else. Rights that include being able to practice your faith regardless of who you choose to love and the ability to preach to a congregation regardless of your sexual anatomy.

Though tradition plays a role in all religions, we mustn’t assume that all traditions are inherently right. Traditions are warped throughout history by whoever happens to be the most powerful at the time. It’s time to take off the blinders, look past the propaganda and fully evaluate whether what the Church currently promotes are truly Catholic ideals.

Above all, we as Catholics should have the ability to engage in an open dialogue about issues facing the Church today without fear of penalization. For if there is no discussion, no questioning of beliefs, we are left preaching dead dogma.

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