Tribute to Frank Callanan

Frank Callanan, a highly regarded Senior Counsel, has died at the relatively young age of sixty five. I had the privilege of knowing Frank, and of benefiting from his wisdom and support.

When we launched the Association of Catholic Priests in 2010 it was a difficult time for priests in Ireland. The exposure of clerical sex abuse had done enormous damage; the morale of priests was on the ground; bishops, many of whom had covered up abusers, were often in a state of panic, terrified of the media, and had done the full circle and turned on their priests, hanging many of them out to dry. The problem here was that there was no distinction made between real allegations, and some false ones. 

The ACP quickly realised that priests were turning to us for support. We didn’t feel capable of meeting that challenge, since we ourselves were also shaken to the core by the revelations. But we got a lucky break. Through various contacts we managed to put together a legal team, willing to help us pro bono. Solicitor, Robert Dore has, to this day, continued to work with us, not looking for any payment. And he brought in his good friend, distinguished Senior Counsel, Frank Callanan. So now we had a serious body of legal support, which showed itself to great effect in the very public case of Kevin Reynolds. But there were also many other cases, involving false allegations, which did not get the same publicity, but for which we owe a great debt to Robert, Frank and others in the legal world that they recruited to help. It also meant that now we were a serious body within the official structure of the Church, and the authorities couldn’t easily dismiss us.

I myself had a personal dealing with Frank. When I got into trouble with the Vatican, and my own religious authorities, in 2012, I could clearly see that the processes by which my case was being handled in Rome left a lot to be desired. I considered taking a legal case, and, having discussed it with Robert Dore, he organised a meeting. It took place in Frank’s office, which I remember being cluttered with books and files. There were four legal people present, Robert, Frank, Jack Fitzgerald (another Senior Counsel), and Junior Counsel whose name I cannot remember. I had brought along two men from the ACP, whose advice I trusted. We had a long session. All the legal heads present were unanimous in declaring that the way the Vatican behaved in my case was completely without any vestige of justice or fairness. So the discussion proceeded to the mechanism involved in taking a case. It would be unusual, so there wasn’t much precedent to call on. And I was also informed that a lot would depend on what judge was hearing the case.

Anyway, after a lot of discussion, I suggested that each of us present would give an opinion on what should be done. The general consensus seemed to be that it was worth a try. Frank Callanan put it this way: “It is unlikely we would win the case, but we could embarrass the Vatican, and maybe get them to draw in their horns for the future”. One of my friends, while saying that he thought it would be a good thing to do, turned directly to me and said that he thought it would be a long and difficult process for me, and that it could cause me a lot of stress.

In the end the decision was left to me, and I said I would take time to think, and talk to others. In the end, after a few days, I decided that I would not go ahead with it. My fear was that it would dominate my life for many years, and that would be a big price to pay. Also, of course, I was aware that by taking the action, I would be automatically excommunicated— though I don’t think that concerned me too much.

If I had it back again, I wonder would I make a different decision………

It was a really interesting experience, and I think of it now with the news of Frank’s death, and I am grateful to him and to Robert for their support.

Tony Flannery