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Outspoken priest to celebrate Mass

Wednesday, 11th January, 2017 1:01am

Outspoken priest Fr Tony Flannery will celebrate his 70th birthday later this month by hosting a public Mass for the first time in five years, following his censure by Church authorities.

The popular Athenry priest, who is not permitted to minister publicly, said, “Having spent 40 years of my life ministering as a priest, I am now into my fifth year when I am forbidden by Church authorities to minister publicly. I have decided to honour my age, and my lifetime, by ignoring the Church censures, and celebrating a public Mass.”

The public Mass will take place in Killimordaly Community Centre on Sunday, 22 January at 2.30pm.

Fr Flannery explained, “This January marks a significant milestone in my life. I have wondered how best to mark it. I am not by nature a ‘party person’, so that option did not greatly appeal to me. Since I would not be allowed to do so either in a Catholic church or other Catholic controlled building, I have chosen, with the kind permission of the committee, to celebrate it in the local community hall in the village where I now live.”

In 2012, the priest, who is a native of Attymon near Athenry, was suspended from public ministry by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Faith for his more liberal views on women priests, homosexuality and contraception.

He does not believe his dispute with the church will ever be resolved “unless there is a direct intervention from Pope Francis himself”. “And that is very unlikely. Francis has already more than enough problems to deal with in the Church without involving himself in the case of an individual in a small island of the west coast of Europe!”

He explained his reasons behind celebrating Mass to mark his birthday. “I don’t think that I am doing it just for the sake of defying Church authorities. Neither do I want it to be the beginning of an unofficial ministry on my part. I have no wish to start a new ecclesial movement.”

He added, “For the last five years I have been in something of a ‘limbo’ state, neither fully in or fully out of the priesthood. I have known from an early stage that there was no possibility of a resolution of the dispute between myself and the Vatican. So this public Mass will be for me a way of acknowledging the 40 years of my life, and the work I did as a priest — a way of acknowledging who I am.”

Since his dispute with the Vatican became public, he said he has received enormous support from people across the country and internationally. “Eucharist is essentially a thanksgiving and in this Mass I am giving thanks for the good will of many people.”

When it comes to the Church exercising its authority, Fr Flannery said, “Every institution needs an authority structure. But authority must be exercised in a way that is just, and that respects the dignity of the person. In my experience, and in the experience of many others whom I have come to know in these past years, Church authority is exercised in a way that is unjust and abusive.”

He hopes that his action next week will highlight once again the urgent need for change in the way the Vatican deals with people who express opinions that are considered to be at odds with official Church teaching.

He admitted to being apprehensive about presiding at a public mass after almost five years “in the wilderness”, but quoted Macbeth, “to go back is as tedious as to go on”. He added, “I now feel the urge to take a positive step.”

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