For the past 14 years, Fr Flannery has written in the Redemptorist Order’s Reality magazine, but Rome has intervened and the column has been banned.
It is understood that Fr Flannery was informed of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s concerns two months ago, but would not comment on the matter yesterday.
Fr Flannery has publicly expressed opposition to the Church’s ban on artificial birth control and its refusal to ordain women. He also publicly backed Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s Dáil attack on the Vatican in the aftermath of the Cloyne Report.
The censure of Fr Flannery, which was reported in this week’s Irish Catholic, will be seen by many as a retrenching of the Vatican in the aftermath of the child sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church globally.
In his Holy Thursday homily at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI issued a withering attack on Austrian priests who have questioned Church teaching on celibacy and the ordination of women, saying they were being selfish in disobeying his authority.
In 2006, a group of Austrian priests launched the Pfarrer Initiative, a call to disobedience aimed at abolishing priestly celibacy and opening up the clergy to women to relieve the shortages of priests. The group now claims it has the support of more than 300 Austrian priests and deacons and followers in other countries.
Its influence has grown to such an extent that top Austrian bishops met with Vatican officials in January to discuss how to handle them, according to Italian news reports.
So far, neither the Vatican nor the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, have publicly imposed any canonical penalties on them.
In his homily, Pope Benedict said the dissidents claimed to be motivated by concern for the Church, but in reality they were just making “a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with [their] own preferences and ideas”.
“We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date,” he said.
“But is disobedience really a way to do this?”
The move against Fr Flannery and the Pope’s stirring homily come just two weeks after the report of the apostolic visitation to Ireland noted what it called “fairly widespread” dissent among priests, religious, and lay people from the teaching of the Church.
A spokesman for the Redemptorist Order was unavailable for comment yesterday.