The respected priest was censured by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012 for his liberal views on issues such as women priests, homosexuality, and contraception. This means he is “forbidden by Church authorities to minister publicly”.
Yesterday marked his first public mass in five years, and the ceremony was attended by hundreds of people.
It took place in a community centre near where he is now living in Athenry, Co Galway, and a marquee and large screen had to be erected outside to manage the crowds that came from around the country.
Fr Flannery told the Irish Examiner: “It’s five years since I’ve been out of ministry. I said: ‘Why not?’
“There’s a risk I know, there are consequences to doing something like this like excommunication and dismissal from my religious order. The Redemptorists wouldn’t dismiss me but they’d be ordered to.”
He said while his homily was not particularly significant, the Mass and the community response to it were.
“What’s striking about this whole event is the response of the community, which is in a relatively traditional area,” he said. “The Church’s power over people, with their rules about how to behave and what to think, is gone. There are a lot of people with faith but with little respect for what the official church is doing.”
Commenting on his ban, Fr Flannery described it as difficult at the time but how he “chose not to be silent”.
“I never felt ashamed,” he said. “I chose not to be silent. It was difficult when it happened, I was 65 and spent 40 years in the Redemptorist order, to suddenly have it taken.
“I’ve had more time to get involved in international reform groups and that has been very stimulating.”