From The Irish Times, March 8th: by Patsy McGarry

Following a dark night of the soul, Fr Tony Flannery is back on the road again, moving towards the light

The outspoken priest is giving a series of talks on ‘ways forward’ for the Cathol

Fr Tony Flannery is in a much better place these days. He’s back in the family home. Back in the east Galway townland where it all began 67 years ago. The only place to be in times of trouble, in an hour of darkness.He’s in a much better place psychologically too.

Anyone reading the last dark chapter of his book A Question of Conscience , published last September, would wonder whether he had been broken by his recent experiences at the hands of Vatican apparatchiks and Roman Redemptorists.

Out of priestly ministry since 2012, he recalled the cost. “I miss being able to celebrate the Eucharist and I miss being able to preach. I know I can say Mass privately, but I seldom do, since I regard it as a community exercise.”

He knew “that faith in Jesus Christ is more important than any of this, but while I can accept that totally at an intellectual level, it is much more difficult to deal with my emotional responses to it. The church introduced me to Christ, and for my whole life my faith has been lived out within the church, most of it within religious life. So I suppose I am now experiencing something of a crisis of faith.”

Hard questions
He realised at the time he would “have to decide if I wish to stay in religious life for what time is remaining to me, while not being allowed to do any form of ministry. I do not know what effect that would have on me long term, but it may be difficult. The alternative would be to move out on my own and try to make a life for myself, but this is, quite frankly, frightening. Would I be able to cope, after living almost my whole life in an institutional setting? Who would look after me in my old age? Would I be very lonely? What about the financial side of it all? These are the real and hard questions that are occupying my mind at this time.”

But he did not want “to waste much more of my time attempting to deal with the Roman authorities in the way I have been trying to do for the past 18 months. I have seen other religious being broken down and becoming embittered by their experience. I will try not to let that happen to me.”

That was September. In November he moved home. He has already disproved the wisdom of Terry Wogan, that when God shuts one door he will always close another. He has found the opposite to be the case.

He moved out of the Redemptorist community at Esker in Galway, feeling his presence there was becoming a constant distraction, particularly at Masses when he was conspicuous in the pews and not on the altar as people expected. That, and not being allowed to preach or perform any of the functions of his priestly ministry, meant he began to feel “a hindrance” in the community.

Not that the Redemptorists at Esker made him feel so. Though he no longer lives among them, they continue to support him financially.

Then a new door opened. People began to invite him to give talks. He does so, “deliberately staying away from church premises, so as not to cause embarrassment to anyone”.

In January he spoke in Galway city, Athenry, and Castlebar. Last month he was inLimerick and London. In the autumn there will be a US tour.

In these talks his emphasis is on church reform. He only discusses his own circumstances if asked afterwards.

“In my talks I hope to give some historical background to the main problems we are facing in the church today, and then attempt to point some of the ways forward – many of them already being spoken of by Pope Francis, ” he said.

Meanwhile, where he and Rome are concerned, all is silence. He expects no great change, for now. But he’s back in the light again. And still there is a chance that they will see. There will be an answer. Let it be.