Interviewing Fr Flannery at the Féile
Dingle was a busy place over the May bank holiday weekend. It was the venue for the 23rd year of Féile na Bealtaine festival. The organisers told me that every event was close to full.
It was the brainchild of the late Mícheál Fanning, who was a local GP and a poet. I had the good fortune to meet his daughter Ruth with her three-week-old baby daughter Orla at the festival. Ruth was at the door of the courthouse on Saturday with babe in arms welcoming guests, who were attending the interview with Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery.
The festival authorities had asked me to conduct the interview with Fr Flannery.
The courthouse is an old forbidding building and I certainly would not like to be heading there to face justice. I was nervous enough about the interview ahead. I had familiarised myself with Fr Flannery's case and had read his book 'A Question of Conscience'.
Fr Flannery is one of a number of priests in Ireland who has run into trouble with the Holy See's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) for views he has expressed on a myriad church issues.
Fr Flannery would be the first to say that he is not a professional theologian. Over the years he has written in various church publications, including the Redemptorist magazine 'Reality'.
The row with Rome began over an article he had written in 'Reality' concerning the origins of priesthood.
But that row has now developed into a full-blown war between Fr Flannery and the CDF. He has been 'silenced' by the Holy See. He is not allowed administer the Sacraments.
There are always two sides in a row. But there are aspects to this row that throw up all those issues which seem to alienate so many people from the Catholic Church.
When the dispute first erupted Fr Flannery was more or less treated like a small boy. The Vatican dealt with the Superior General of the Redemptorists in Rome and reading Fr Flannery's account of things the Redemptorist boss handled the case badly. And then there is all the silliness of anonymous complaints going to the Vatican. Fr Flannery says that he received letters, which were not written on headed notepaper from the CDF.
During our interview Fr Flannery was critical of the Irish bishops and the current papal nuncio. He said that there has been no communication between any of the Irish bishops or the papal nuncio, who is the Holy See's ambassador to Ireland. He has a good relationship with the Irish Redemptorists, who support him.
During question time former Senator Brendan Ryan pointed out that more than 100 people had paid €10 to attend the event. He said that people were interested in their faith and church and that if change were to happen in the church then it would have to come from the people.
Four days later I was in a church and spotted the different titles on the nameplates on confession boxes. But I was struck with the titles. After one man's name was CC, after another OP, CC. One man had nothing at all after his name. Two had Fr before their names and two others had Rev. in front of their names, with one of them giving himself the title V Rev. and then PP, VF after his name. In case you may not know, VF stands for Vicar Forane.
Journalist Vincent Browne wisely said that once we give people titles we give them power over us.
I keep saying to myself: the church just doesn't get it. Does it?