The Bishop, the Pastoral Council, and myself!

Tony Flannery
August 23, 2015

About two months ago I got an invitation from the Pastoral Council of the parish of Killeagh in Cloyne diocese to come and give the keynote talk at a weekend parish fest they were organising for late September. The request was that I would speak on the subject of where the voice of the Spirit could be heard in today’s Church.  I was happy to accept the invitation.

When notice of this talk first went out, a few weeks ago, the bishop of Cloyne, William Creanexpressed concern.  He called the parish priest, Tim Hazelwood, to come to meet him.  He made it clear that he was not happy that I was coming, saying he had been in touch with the RedemptoristProvincial to ascertain my ‘status’, and was informed that I was forbidden to minister publicly as a priest. The parish priest brought the bishop’s concern back to the pastoral council. They were unwilling to cancel the invitation, but they compromised by saying that the talk would take place, not in the church, but in the community hall.

Still the bishop was unhappy, and he made further contact with the Redemptorist Provincial.  It seems to me that what he possibly wanted was that the Provincial would order me not to go to Killeagh.  The Provincial of the Redemptorists did not give me any direction in respect of the talk in Killeagh.

Further developments took place early this past week, when the bishop came to Killeagh and met the subcommittee of the pastoral council who were delegated to organise the weekend festival. At that meeting he gave orders that the invitation be cancelled.  I got a phone call from the parish priest that evening to tell me that the talk would no longer take place.

I found the whole situation both surprising and depressing. Since my suspension from ministry I have given numerous talks, in this country, in England, and last autumn an extensive speaking tour in the U.S.  With one exception in the U.S. there had been no problem, and my talks mainly consisted of highlighting the message of Pope Francis.  One of these talks actually took place in a Catholic church.

In my view there are two important issues here.  The first one has to do with freedom of speech.  I regard the way I was treated by the CDF in the Vatican was unjust and abusive. To find an Irish bishop extending the notion of ‘silencing’ to a talk in a community hall is very disappointing.

How long and at what cost do these bishops imagine they can keep the lid on every boiling pot?

With Francis calling for open discussion, and respectful listening, how can a bishop justify extreme measures to silence people.

The second, and more important issue, has to do with the role of lay people in the Church. We regularly hear Church authorities talking about the important part lay people play, how we must give them a voice, and listen to them. But here we have an example of a bishop using his episcopal authority to lay down the law to a group of committed lay people in a parish, and to peremptorily overrule their decision. How can we seriously expect any lay person to put themselves forward  for positions in the Church when they can so easily be brushed aside when the bishop does not like what they are doing.

All in all, this has been a sad and sorry tale and, in my opinion, does not reflect well on Bishop Crean.  Finally, I am advised that when the Papal Nuncio is asked about the censuring of priests in Ireland he states that the matter has nothing to do with the Vatican and that the censuring is something that was decided by the various leaders of the respective congregations!


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