According to this week’s edition of the paper, senior sources in Rome have also insisted that the case hinges on whether or not the Redemptorist priest accepts the Church’s teaching on the nature of the priesthood.
During a press conference in Dublin at the weekend, Fr Flannery, 66, a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), said he was “threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church for suggesting that, in the future, women might become priests and calling for this and other matters to be open for discussion”.
However, senior Vatican sources have indicated that the Holy See has not threatened excommunication and the case against Fr Flannery is about the fundamental nature of the Church’s understanding of the priesthood.
Sources in the Roman Curia claim that it is a 2010 contention by Fr Flannery that he no longer believed that “the priesthood as we currently have it in the Church originated with Jesus” or that Jesus designated “a special group of his followers as priests,” that is problematic for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF).
Fr Flannery wrote: “It is more likely that some time 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.”
Vatican sources have indicated that the CDF wants Fr Flannery to specifically recant that statement and affirm that Christ instituted the Church with a permanent hierarchical structure and that bishops are divinely established successors to the apostles.
Fr Flannery says the Vatican warned him not to attend meetings of the ACP. It is understood the Vatican is concerned that he was in a leadership role in an organisation that counts more than 1,000 priests as members. The CDF is worried about the influence Fr Flannery’s published views on the nature of the priesthood might have on the members of that organisation.
One Vatican source said: “Here you have a priest, who is leading a priests’ association, apparently saying he doesn’t believe in the founding principles of the priesthood. That’s not good for the other members of this association.”
However, on the issue of excommunication, the source indicated that there is “no question” of Fr Flannery facing this ultimate penalty within the Church.
The Irish Province of the Redemptorists said it was “deeply saddened by the breakdown in communication” between Fr Flannery and the Vatican.
“We sincerely hope and pray that even at this late stage, some agreed resolution can be found to this matter,” the statement said.