An outspoken priest has hit out at intolerant and extreme right-wingers in the Church and questioned why priests like Fr Tony Flannery were being “persecuted with a zeal that is as pathological as the paranoia that feeds it”.
Fr Iggy O’Donovan was paying tribute to Fr Flannery, a Redemptorist priest who was silenced by the Catholic hierarchy in Rome last year after airing his views over women priests, contraception, and clerical celibacy, at his own final Mass before he begins a “sabbatical”.
Close to 1,500 people, including members of the Muslim and Baha’i faiths, attended the service at the Augustinian Church in Drogheda yesterday where they also heard town mayor Richie Culhane claim that “ultra-conservative” elements had forced the Augustinians to “push” Fr Iggy out of Drogheda.
While Fr Iggy has denied reports he had been silenced by the Church, many see the decision to move him from Drogheda to Limerick, where he will be on sabbatical, as a response to complaints about his liturgy.
Fr Iggy yesterday said he could not leave the town without making reference to Fr Flannery, whom he described as “a distinguished colleague of mine in the priesthood”.
“If I had not been made aware first hand of the details of his case, I could not have given it credence. Even hardened veterans are shaken by the murkiness of the devious world of ecclesiastical politics.”
Fr Iggy asked: “How has it come to this, that a great and good priest like Tony, who has dedicated his life to the preaching of the Gospel, is persecuted with a zeal that is as pathological as the paranoia that feeds it?
“How has it come to this, that intolerant and extreme right-wingers — encouraged, apparently, by certain authorities and career-oriented priests — can meet in solemn conclave to determine who is guilty of what these people label heresy?
“How has it come to this, that sincere, thinking Catholics are walking away from our Church believing that the battle for sane Catholicism is lost?”
Fr Iggy told the congregation: “I still believe and am strongly of the conviction that Catholicism is compatible with modern culture.”
He added that he “deeply” welcomes the arrival of Pope Francis.
At the end of the Mass, Mr Culhane addressed the congregation told Fr Iggy: “I hope and pray to God that you are never silenced.”
Fr Iggy O’Donovan is no stranger to causing controversy within the Catholic Church.
In 2006, he was heavily criticised by senior figures after he issued an invitation to Church of Ireland minister Michael Graham to join him and other Catholic priests in an Easter Mass at his order’s priory in Drogheda, Co Louth.
In 2008, Fr O’Donovan rounded on the Vatican for its condemnation of the Harry Potter books.
In 2010, he described as “a millstone around our necks” the fact that women were not ordained to the priesthood.
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