A few days ago, around mid morning, I was getting ready to celebrate Mass with a friend of mine. I had all the necessities laid out, the books opened and the candles lit, when my phone rang. Somebody was calling to tell me that a letter had arrived at a Redemptorist house for me. I asked him to open it and tell me what it contained. It was from the Civil Registration Service, telling me that I was no longer on the approved list of marriage solemnisers. It contained the following:
“Written request from Bishop John Kirby, norinator for the Diocese of Clonfert, dated 8/9/2016 for the removal of Tony Flannery from the Register of Solemnisers for the following reason:-
It is four and a half year now since I first dealt with the CDF, and four years since I was forbidden to minister publicly as a priest. I thought I had moved on, that I had got involved in the reform movement, going to Chicago in two weeks time to attend an international reform conference, and that I had got to a place of some tranquility about it all.
So I was surprised at now much this document hurt and upset me. My first reaction was to quench the candles, gather up the various items and put then back in the mass kit, and tell my friend I was now in no fit state to celebrate the Eucharist.
I HAVE NOT LEFT MINISTRY. I still exercise my priestly ministry in a private capacity when the occasion arises. And, like anyone else who is trying to live by Gospel values, I hope that I exercise ministry in various aspects of my life that do not demand ordination.
Why was I so hurt and upset?
Maybe it was that John Kirby is a man I have known for about forty years, and is my local bishop. I would have hoped for some show of support from him when I was first accused, but, like all the other bishops, I didn’t even get a call, a note or a card. Nothing. But now, defaming my good name in an official state document, as I saw it, was adding insult to injury.
It also had something to do with the fact that I have had so many dealings with Church authorities over the four years, and this was somehow the last straw.
About six months ago eleven priests in ministry, along with myself, put their names to a statement in favour of the ordination of women; in the past few weeks Sean McDonagh, Brian D’Arcy and Peter McVerry have also come out in support of womens ordination. No sanction has been imposed on any of these, while I remain penalised for doing the same thing.
I said at an early stage of this whole business with the Vatican that I was taken aback by how quickly the institution closes in against you, and shuts you out. This was another example of the same thing.
All these things, and more, tend to build up inside you, no matter how much you try to ignore them.
I got on to the Redemptorist superior to check if he had anything to do with this document. He hadn’t. But he rang Bishop Kirby, and the upshot of all this was that today, five days after the first document, I got a letter from Bishop Kirby, apologising for what he called his ‘serious error’.
“Without thinking or reflecting on its significance, I entered that phrase (‘left ministry’) on the official form”.
“I will take immediate steps to correct the official record”, he says.
So that is where the situation stands as of today.