A senior cardinal has broken his silence over the Vatican’s investigation of controversial Irish priest Fr Tony Flannery.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Irish Catholic this week Cardinal William Levada said that Fr Flannery was not investigated for his views on married priests as has been suggested, but because he ‘undermined’ essentials teachings of the Church.
Cardinal Levada served for over seven years as Pope Benedict’s chief doctrinal adviser. In his role as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (COF) he was responsible for leading an investigation which has seen Fr Flannery suspended from the exercise of his priesthood.
Cardinal Levada told The Irish Catholic Fr Flannery “takes to the news a lot”. However, the cardinal, who, while retired as prefect, is still a member of the CDF, said “I have never seen in any reports what the fundamental problem was that led to our intervention.
“He [Fr Flannery] likes to say ‘because I’m for married priests’. This is not the case: he wrote two articles in Reality magazine in which he questioned, undermined, the teaching of the Church on the Eucharist and on the priesthood. If you hold these positions you are formally in heresy [in the Catholic Church]. For Martin Luther, or the Protestant reformers, they were key issues and they denied these doctrines of the Church,” the cardinal said.
He said that “priests, religious and theologians - people who have been given a charge, people who have been given the work of speaking with the authority of the Church behind them - cannot simply come out and say ‘I don’t accept this’ or ‘I don’t like this’. They have a responsibility, otherwise they use their role to produce confusion and people may hear them preaching from the pulpit or read what they write about something that’s contrary to the Faith.
“We hope that the person will see that this is not in accord with the doctrine of the Church and will say what I really do hold in the doctrine of the Church and to say that. Write a note, have it published in the same place so that people will know you are not a heretic,” he said.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic this week in response to the cardinal’s comments, Fr Flannery said “I have put all the documentation into the public domain - all published in my book, A Question of Conscience - and I am happy to leave it at that, and let the readers judge for themselves”.
Cardinal Levada also said that the CDF is not above criticism for the way it handles cases. “If you are working for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith it helps to have a pretty thick skin so that you aren’t overly-sensitive if you are criticised…But we’re always ready to say if we could’ve done better we’ll learn and do better next time”.
Dr Levada also said that “there are many critics of the congregation who are essentially critics of the faith, of Jesus, of God.
“I’m not trying to overstate the case, but, I think we represent a challenge to a highly-secularised mentality,” he said.
It is understood that the particular remarks that aroused concern in the Vatican were in a 2010 article in which Fr Flannery wrote: “I no longer believe that the priesthood, as we currently have it in the Church, originated with Jesus.
“More likely that sometime after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda”.
Full interview on Pages 10 and 11