Saturday, December 18, 2021


At the Catholic Truth Conference, Judge O'Brien K.C.
denounced the plague of immoral literature from abroad.

The Catholic Truth Society (founded 1899) and its company Veritas (founded 1928), have been well known for a long long time. They are both agencies of the Catholic Bishops of Ireland.

In the 1960s Veritas was involed in producing and marketing small devotional pamphlets for the education of the youth of Ireland, such as The Devil at Dances, What to do on a Date, and so on.

It also produced little pamphlet biographies of some of the saints, some of them written by local priests.

The other end of its business was as a repository, selling vestments, church furniture and religious objects.

I was briefly a reader for them at one stage in the early 1960s. I really thought they were very superficial and wasting their time producing some of these devotional pamphlets while there were serious questions facing the church coming out of the Vatican Council of the day. I didn't last as a reader for long.

The company is still with us today supporting the old orthodoxy. Let me take an example of two recent books they refused to stock, no doubt out of religious conviction or is it possibly fear of offending the Vatican.

One was Whatever Happened to Sin by the theologian Seán Fagan. This was an absolutely brilliant book on personal responsibility but was subject to a modern "book burning". The Vatican instructed Seán's religious order to buy up every book in sight and destroy it. Fortunately Dublin City Libraries was out of their reach, unlike what might have been the case in the reign of John Charles Mc Quaid, Archbishop of Dublin, 1940-1972. Many copies of the book survive within the library system, which was, of course, where I got mine.

And then there was Tony Flannery's book, A Matter of Conscience. Tony ran into trouble with the Vatican on a number of fronts - his views on the origins of the priesthood, the ordination of women, and so on. Denounced by the Vatican, Tony was silenced. He was offered a deal from time to time which would have involved him renouncing his views and never, ever, discussing these issues in public again. At the same time these issues were being discussed among theologians but Tony was probably targeted due to his being one of the co-founders of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland. He never found out, to this day, who complained him, though there is speculation that it was a churchman.

So that's your modern Veritas.

But let me go back to the 1960s and the little pamphlet biographies of saints who were being held up as role models for the youth of the day.

I would like to take just one particular pamphlet entitled A Model for Millions: St Maria Goretti. This is about a young girl called Maria Goretti. Most of us then were aware of the story that Maria died defending her virginity against a rapist and the saga is set out in some detail in the pamphlet.

Now the pamphlet was written by a young priest, not long out of Clonliffe College, called Morgan Costello. I knew him. I had served his masses in Killiney. I had tea with him in Castledermot, Co Kildare, when he was assigned there. I printed baptismal forms for him when he was in Meath St in Dublin's city centre. I printed the memorial cards for his father's death. Then I lost contact with him.

And in recent years, what did I find? This priest, who had written this glowing, touching, devotional biography of Maria Goretti, was a child sex abuser on a scale which exceeded that of Brendan Smyth.

He abused every where he went and left an enormous trail of physical, spiritual, emotional and mental destruction behind him. On one occasion he was beaten up by his parishioners. On another he was saved from a beating by a parishioner who refused to believe the stories circulating about him, though that parishioner's wife would never let a child of hers be alone with him. He was transferred from parish to parish according as his activities came to light.

Eventually, when the law caught up with him at the beginning of this century, the Garda had to hack their way through a battery of civil and canonical lawyers to get him into court. He appeared in court, a feeble old man in in a wheelchair. His final posting was as Parish Priest in Rathmines before he ceased to become a priest of the Dublin diocese.

The hearing of the case kept being put back and eventually the DPP abandoned it. As is the custom, no reason was given. I suspect myself that it was either because he, or the young man he serially buggered in Meath St in the 1960s, was no longer fit enough to appear in court. I've little doubt what the verdict would have been had the case gone ahead. The charges had been preceded by a massive investigation by the Garda and I suspect that this was just a sample case from among many others.

Costello died on 3 July 2016. The death was not publicised and I don't know where he is buried.

So, what is the point of all I have written above?

The thread here is Veritas which, after all is the agent of the Catholic Bishops of Ireland. In spite of the challenges facing the Church in the 1960s, the company carried on producing simplistic devotional pamphlets advocating purity among the youth of Ireland.

Now, the company had no way of knowing the hypocrisy behind the Maria Goretti pamphlet when it was published in 1960 as Costello was only then starting out on his path of destruction. But when the hierarchy did become so aware at a later stage, the response was to rotate him around parishes as was the custom of the day. So the pamphlet is a symbol for me of the church's hypocritical stance on child sex abuse during my lifetime.

And before I go into my peroration, let us not forget that early in his career, Costello, while lauding young Maria's resolve, himself put an innocent young girl into a home where she was most likely abused and Auxiliary Bishop Kavanagh stood idly by on that occasion.

Let me finish with a few quotes from the final pages of the pamphlet on Maria Goretti which are directly addressed to young Irish boys and girls.
God has given men and women the power to create children with Him, who will be happy with him forever in Heaven. These wonderful powers may only be used in marriage, but long before that time young men and women realise that they have received them. God knows too that they will have to struggle hard to keep pure so He gives them the Sacrament of Confirmation. ...

The devil will tempt them to enjoy pleasures in thought and act which are only permitted by God in marriage, and which outside marriage can only bring painful remorse of conscience. ...

Worldly people, obscene magazines, stimulating films will urge one to give up the fight but all must stand by their guns beneath the flag of Christ. ...

In this great battle of life one can imitate St. Maria Goretti. When faced with the decision of sin or death she gave the resounding battle-cry: "You may die but you must never commit mortal sin."
As I leave you I am quietly reading the missioner's sermon on Hell in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ... ...

Saturday, March 20, 2021


When I saw the notice that Our Lady of Knock was going to be promoted, I just had to tune in.

I have some standing in Knock having visited it in the 1950s, and maybe even the 1940s, when Knock was just Knock - the site of an apparition at the gable end of a fairly ordinary church and a source of holy water and related religious artifacts from any one of a row of huxters' stalls.

Today's Knock is serviced by an international airport, bringing Cardinal-led pilgrimages from the USA. It has a Basilica, albeit one more like an airport hangar on the inside until the recent extensive renovations. It has five churches in all in the grounds, including a Chapel of Reconciliation that has as many confessionals as there are weeks in the year.

Anyway, up to now, its status was as a national shrine. After much manoeuvering at many levels, Pope Francis agreed to up its status to an international shrine. And that is what last evenings ceremony was all about.

While far from the Knock I knew as a chiseller, I have to say it was a very impressive show.

So, no wonder the smile on this man's face. He is Father Richard Gibbons, the PP at Knock, and I have been lost in admiratiion for his organising and fund-raising skills since I saw that beautiful film on the village, Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Town, way back in 2016.

His Holiness turned up bang on time. None of your oul Zoom shite here. Right on cue (I nearly wrote queue).

He read the citation in what I assume was faultless Italian and happily someone had kindly provided subtitles in English.

He was thanked by Archbishop Neary on behalf of Knock, the County of Mayo, the Country of Ireland (including the North as it's a 32 county organisation) and the World at Large.

I reminded myself that I had once shaken the Archbishop's hand. That occurred at a funeral in Ballyhaunis when I had assumed he was the Parish Priest and he, no doubt, assumed that I was a relative of the deceased. As it turned out he was right and I was wrong.

As a former civil servant, I really appreciated this bit. You can't beat the rule, get it on paper. And that's what he did. And that is the piece of paper. Well done.

The mass was concelebrated. I assume by all the priests present in the sanctuary, and I'll come back to that.

You can see Fr. Francis indicating his participation in the consecration here with the standard gesture.

It is a very familiar gesture to me, having been present at a number of concelebrated masses, two being those of my deceased priest cousins.

I'm sure loads of people have been at concelebrated masses. But I think I may have the unique distinction of sitting in a pew at a cousin's funeral in St. Patrick's church in Ballyhaunis, when the priest sitting beside me galvanised into action at the consecration and with the same hand gesture as Fr. Francis above, revealing that he too had been quietly participating in the concelebration of the mass but from a considerable distance. Gave me as bit of a fright at the time.

Assuming that he was successful, I'm sure that this has some relevance for participation by the laity in Zoom masses in these difficult times. But at this stage I'll leave it to someone else to figure out the implications.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland (the all is important here for a variety of reasons), dropped in to say a few well chosen words, and went as quickly as he had come.

As we neared the end, the Archbishop unfortunately had a wardrobe malfunction. Don't get carried away, it was just that his mask became entangled with his glasses as he tried to remove it with one hand. Been there, done that. It was only one hand because he had his crozier in the other.

Now, I have been an altar boy in my day and I have good instincts. If I were Fr. Francis I would have put an unobtrusive hand out to support the crozier and allowed the Archbishop the luxury of a two handed disentanglement. But never mind. The Archbishop is an old soldier and he just soldiered on regardless. Well done.

As you can see, the matter was quickly resolved as all faced the apparition tableau for the final hymn. And speaking of hymns, I have to say the singing was most impressive.

I did wonder where the choir was, assuming they were live. And then there was applause which appeared to come from the body of the church. So I'm still wondering what the covid set up was, but in view of the nature of the occasion and its obvious success, that's probably a bit of unnecessary nitpicking on my part.

Now, I haven't mentioned the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, who was present in the sanctuary throughout. I'm assuming he participated in the concelebration from a distance, but for the most part he was invisible in a dark corner at the back on the right. He is indicated by the red arrow in the picture above.

No doubt a modest and retiring man. quite unlike his predecessor, Charlie Brown, who had a fetish about Knock and Our Lady thereof, and would no doubt have hogged the limelight had he still been around and not banished to Albania for his sins. He has recently been sighted in the Philippines where he has now taken up residence.

All in all, a most entertaining evening. And, as it happens, that was my second virtual mass of the day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021


Following advice from the US Archdiocese of New Orleans to Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to its use of aborted fetus cells, the Vatican has issued the following instruction to potential injectees.

The instruction is issued under the seal of Pontifical Secrecy but Benny the Bridgebuilder has obtained a copy and feels that this remarkable instruction should be subject to public scrutiny, at least by Roman Catholics, and should also be submitted to the Sensus Fidelium test before being acted upon.

The instruction obliges Catholics to closely examine the needle (pin) to be used in their injection, count the number of angels present, and if these number less than a Papal (equivalent to a baker's) dozen to refuse the injection.

Angels exceeding the Papal dozen can be allocated to other needles to bring their count up to the required total.

Failure to observe this instruction will incur instant excommunication.

In which case, of course, the injectee can do as they please without further fear of sanction.

The instruction has been issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), formerly the Inquisition, without consulting the Pope who, they point out, has more important things on his mind.

[Waterford Whispers please copy.]

Friday, February 12, 2021



Did the Inquisition (CDF) contribute to Fr. Tony Flannery's spiritual development?

Surprisingly, the answer is YES.

And we have it in his own words, in the acknowledgements section of his latest book.
Lastly I must acknowledge the part played by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Without their intervention in my life neither this book, nor my previous one, A Question of Conscience, would have seen the light of day.
And who can deny, reading both books, that they have played a significant part in Tony's spiritual, intellectual, and emotional development over the last eight years of his banishment from ministry.

It is interesting to contrast this with the "spiritual development" of the CDF over the same period. Zilch.

Its head in 2012, Cardinal Lavada, has since been pulled over for drink driving and his immediate successor is now one of the leading lights in the opposition to Pope Francis's attempts to drag the church screaming into the 20th, let alone the 21st century. Cardinal Lavada has since gone to meet his maker and that is a conversation at which I'd love to be a fly on the wall.

The CDF "terms of surrender" furnished, indirectly as usual, to Tony this year virtually replicate those set down in 2012.

The only advance is the CDF being caught out yet again by Tony's insistence that they lacked the guts and/or manners to engage with him directly in all of this. The current CDF head, Cardinal Ladaria (Brother Luis to you), publicly claimed that they had tried to engage with him but that he had refused. Imagine the extent of potential embarassment that led this Prince of the Church to lie in public.

What I'm sure he meant, or should have meant, to say was that they had got a negative reply from Tony to the outrageous unsigned unheaded "surrender terms" furnished, as usual, through Tony's international superior, Fr. Brehl, the cowardly fall guy in all of this.

So, down to business - the book.

The book is the fruit of a journey, which you might be surprised to learn both Tony and I share. From Pius XII to Francis, though I travelled earlier and ended up further down the road. Tony discovered an acceptable halting site along the way.

For a Catholic priest it is surely "The Road Less Travelled", at least in terms of introspection and courage. But people today will be aware that for many Catholics it is becoming the Road More Travelled in the face of the obduracy of the CDF continuing to peddle outmoded concepts, not to mention the actual corruption in that institution and in the wider Vatican.

Some Details

I'm going to take each chapter one at a time, give you a very rough idea what's in it with some comments of my own. I'll be doing this in very summary fashion or I'd be here all night.

Before I do, I'd like to stress that this is a most important book whose central thesis will hopefully be accepted over time by the faithful but which for the moment represents a radical revolution in belief. The text is considered and tightly written and I have complimented the publisher on their choice of font which is most readable.

Foreword by Kevin Hegarty

The choice of author for the Foreword speaks volumes. Kevin Hegarty was sacked in 1994 as editor of the Catholic Church magazine, Intercom, after commissioning articles on subjects like clerical sexual abuse, women priests and compulsory celibacy. When he was appointed to the job of editor in 1991 he was regarded as one of the rising intellectual forces in the Irish Catholic Church.

He was effectively banished to Hell and Connacht. It's a wonder someone didn't trump up a few abuse charges against him as is the wont these days in the case of unwelcome whistleblowers.

Anyway, Tony picked a good man for his foreword and sent out a message at the same time.

Chapter 1 We Are Where We Are, But How Did We Get Here?

In this introductory chapter Tony describes how he more or less drifted into the priesthood. He also reveals that he was abused as a youth though he is inclined to minimise the after effects.

A Distant Vengeful God

He sets out the religious environment of the day in which guilt seemed to be the main ingredient and one which was intensified in the single sex Redemptorist seminary. The God of those days was seen as a vengeful King from a distant planet despite all the talk about infinite mercy and its implied empathy.

He stresses the great lift and hope that the Vatican Council brought to the table but he also reminds us of that unholy earthly trinity, John Charles, Connie Lucy, and Michael Browne, who did their best to douse the flames of reform and hope.

In one sense Vatican II came about 400 years too late. As Tony implies, the knee jerk reaction of the church to the Reformation did it no favours and an oppressive authoritarian hierarchical church festered in the hearts of the people thereafter. When Vatican II did come it was like a blood letting for many but the flow was quickly staunched by, among other things, the disastrous and cowardly encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 which gave many, including myself, a rational and proximate reason for questioning, and in my case rejecting, church teaching.

Tony regrets the baby being thrown out with the bathwater and he has a point.

Chapter 2 The Divine Mystery: Who, What, Where Is God?

For me, this chapter is what the book is all about. The external tyrant is replaced by an interior God whose intervention, if it exists, is more diffuse and strictly personal.

This is a difficult concept to come to terms with in the first place. And it has very widespread implications which appear to me to be totally at variance with the current teaching of the Church.

It is not a new idea. I first came across it with Anglican Bishop John Robinson's book, Honest to God, in 1963. But coming to this point takes honesty and lots of courage. It is not initially a comfortable place to be in terms of your own belief and, of course, the potentially violent reaction of a declining church.

At the same time I was reading Paul Tillich's The Shaking of the Foundations and Tony's book seriously merits this description. These were the two books I used to bring to mass while in my transition phase.

The implications of this internal God remain to be teased out. The concept undermines a lot of what we had learned to live with and challenges many of the specifics which it has been the progrogative of the clergy to explain to us, or indeed threaten us with.

The concept of Hell springs to mind. In his Portrait of the Artist James Joyce retails a description of Hell in all its gruesome details. The missionary priest he quotes is, of course, fictional but the description captures the experience as no doubt promulgated by many a missionary in those days. Who knows, with the reputation of the Redemptorists of putting the fear of God into you at mission time, maybe Tony himself doled out some of this in his day.

It is a challenge to the Real Presence as conventionally understood in Catholic doctrine. Now, our understanding of this magical process arises in part from Thomas Aquinas's distinction between the substance and its accidentals, a distinction that does not lie easily with the science of today. Nevertheless, the knee jerk response of the Curia to any meddling with the Real Presence, despite the science underpinning it being well past its sell by date, is no joke and no doubt Tony will encounter some serious blowback on that one.

The Curia is incapable of seeing that even if something is symbolic it is none the less real, as Tony himself has pointed out on a previous occasion. But the attitude taken now, and at the time of the Reformation, is that any challenging of the specifics is a challenge to the power and control of the Curia, and we couldn't have that now, could we?

Concepts up for reconsideration include Hell, Heaven, in fact the afterlife itself, indulgences, the immaculate conception as a unique occurrence, the virgin birth, the resurrection and assumption, the real presence, and so on.

So we're into lots of serious stuff here. But don't blame Tony. Blame the church's reaction to the Reformation and its insistence on the ineffable and the infallible.

Tony sums up his present belief in God as follows:
I am now more comfortable with the notion of a divine presence at the heart of creation, a divine presence within each one of us, a divine presence that is continuously creating and who involves us as essential partners in this ongoing act of creation. This divine presence is not distant, far away, in a heavenly realm, but is part of us, and is keeping everything in existence with an almightly and enduring love. This is not the pantheism of old, it is not suggesting that everything is divine, but rather that every aspect of creation is infused with the Divine Spirit.
For me, this is Tony exploring his halting site. This new diffuse God leaves many questions unanswered. For example can you pray to it or is prayer now simply an internal reflection and a mechanism for self improvement.

This sort of question may be the subject of another book down the road. To give Tony his due, one concept he doesn't throw out is that of "mystery". Traditionally this has been invoked by the Church when it hits an uncomfortable collision between conflicting aspects of belief.

For Tony it is a bit more positive, a question mark to be explored further. There is a concept where not just a belief in God is evolving but so is the godhead itself - "God in process".

Tony does believe in a guiding hand and a loving presence but the nature of this and how it fits in to this new idea of God is still to be resolved. A mystery for now.

Chapter 3 What Do We Mean When We Say Jesus Is the Son of God?

Never a man to shirk a challenge, Tony now tackles Jesus. Questions now abound. What is the God that Jesus was the son of? Tony starts by interrogating the Gospels. These were effectively written after the event as propaganda, so what was the actual truth underlying them. Was Jesus special, and if so in what way? How is he divine above his contemporaries. Tony is prepared to leave this in the mystery category also. There are no precise answers. Christ was not Jesus's surname it was given to him subsequently to identify him as the long awaited saviour.

Tony prefers to concentrate on the life of Jesus and what his real underlying message is for us today. He was a teacher and a subversive, at least as far as the corrupt Jewish establishment is concerned. Perhaps his resurrection refers to the persistence and blossoming of his teaching after his death. It is not his body but his persisting presence that is involved in the resurrection. The symbolic is none the less real. But this is a really difficult one for those raised in the traditional faith to get their head around.

In an interview with Canadian radio, many years back, Tony said he had no problems with the Creed. That is no longer the case. A new edition is called for.

In rejecting the idea of original sin, Tony sets the cat among the pigeons. Why should we not all be born in the "state of grace"? This really deprives the Curia of one of its main weapons in subjugating the faithful and at the same time puts a huge emphasis on personal responsibility. I am sorry Seán Fagan is no longer with us to celebrate this one. Do I hear an other-worldly chuckle in the back of my head?

I realise that in simply referring to Tony's current beliefs and areas of remaining mystery I am doing them an injustice. In some ways Tony's book is more of an infusion than a text and I am just touching on the table of contents. You need to read the book with an open mind to appreciate what he is getting at and you need to accept his mysteries in good faith to understand what he is at. If, having read the book, you are unaffected and prefer the traditional version, that is your prerogative but you will hopefully find this more unsettling than before.

Chapter 4 Mary's Place in the Church

His discussion of Mary traditionally "the mother of God" raises many more difficult questions. What is the meaning of the immaculate conception. In traditional church terms it was a logical necessity. If Jesus was God he could only be born of a woman who had never suffered the stain of sin, even original sin. But now that original sin is obsolete we are all immaculate conceptions.

And the virgin birth. This arose to keep Mary's womb exclusive to Jesus and not have it invaded by ordinary folk who might contaminate it along the way. And then, what might be the claim of any brothers and sisters of Jesus to somes share in his divinity.
So what do I now believe about Mary the mother of Jesus? I accept the general understanding of scholars that the stories of the conception and birth of Jesus are mythological rather than historical. [...] These myths are not unique to the Christian story, but bear a striking resemblance to many ancient myths about gods and the children of gods, and about gods coming down and having sexual relationships with women on earth.
I remember my own shock when first reading WB Yeats poem Leda and the Swan.

No surprise then that Tony reflects:
I find it difficult to write about the place of Mary in our faith. I spent a great part of my priestly life conducting popular devotions to Our Lady under the title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Thus I had ample evidence of how much she means for many Catholic believers. I think it is true to say that a large part of popular devotions are directed more to Our Lady than to God.
It is therefore a measure of his courage and integrity that he has not let this deter him from seeking the truth, difficult and all as that must be for him.

So what is the Mary we are left with at the end of this chapter?
We can see her as a human being, a mother and a wife, who struggled with all the same problems as any woman in a relationship and rearing a family. In this way she can become for us less of a remote, heavenly figure and more of a real flesh-and-blood human person who lived life much as we ourselves have to live it.

Chapter 5 The Church's Fatal Flaw: Exclusion of Women

I'm not going to dwell on this one. It is clear to me, and to Tony, and to hosts of other thinking people, that the exclusion of women from the highest offices of the Church has not one whit of foundation in scripture or in theology. Its function was to copperfasten the boys club and nothing else.

So there is no reason not to ordain women priests. There is a difficulty however as the priesthood itself is in need of serious reform so why would women want to be priests as currently defined. So, the ordination of women and reform of the priesthood must go hand in hand. Meanwhile ordaining women deacons is a step along the road.

Tony takes the opportunity here to discuss the evolution of the invidual conscience, Vatican II and its quick subversion by Paul VI's Humanae Vitae.

Chapter 6 Discovering that Religious Men and Women Were Abusing Children

This picture kills two birds with the one stone. The priest, Morgan Costello, is celebrating the Eucharist while the nuns of the convent are off to the side in a railed enclosure. They were not then even allowed to be altar servers as I was. I am the server on the left.

But the punch line here is that Morgan Costello was much much later identified by the Gardaí as probably the most prolific child sex abuser in the land, worse even than Brendan Smyth. And he was a very nasty man to boot. That did not stop him holding respectable positions in the church and being transferred around Dublin parishes by those who must have known about his nefarious activities. He even went in to the Ryan Commission on a delegation with Fr. McVerry.

And the church, which did nothing about him other than eventually defend him behind a battery of civil and canonical lawyers, is making a fuss about the ordination of women. C'mon.

Chapter 7 The Roots of the Problem

Here Tony discusses a number of issues. Clericalism is prominent among these. Tony quotes Bishop Long of Australia describing the clerical church as "becoming the church of the ordained at the expense of the baptised". Clericalism has to go and this implies a radical change in the idea of the priest. The priest is there to serve and not to be served.

Tony explores the current training for the priesthood and the stunting of sexual growth which it implies. Not a full explanation but no doubt a contributory factor to clerical abuse. There is no reason why celibacy should be a precondition for the priesthood. It has its place, but the current global requirement is effectively deterring a significant number of people who would be good priests.

You also have to consider that the priesthood is/was one of the professions/callings which does have unfettered and unsupervised access to children - historically, young boys. This brings with it the responsibility to have a sexually mature and responsible priesthood.

I'm quite sure that Costello did not interfere with any of us altar boys in the convent where I served his masses. I put this down to the lovely but firm nun who supervised the altar boys. But when he went out into the parishes he had unsupervised access to young boys, and to the Church's shame, this continued for the rest of his clerical career.

Chapter 8 Mass Requires Community Participation

Given the Church's reliance on history and tradition, I have often thought that a mass based on the traditional view of the Last Supper would require a quorum of 13 males but no more, one of whom was in the state of mortal sin. And definitely NO WOMEN.

My feeling is that, following Vatican II, the mass now in the vernacular revealed the poverty behind the mystery. The nature of the event should have changed with an emphasis on participation rather than the magic. But it didn't.

Tony tells us how he more recently discovered the mass as a participant rather than a celebrant and he finds the experience wanting.

I am not in the least surprised. The mass, while traditionally revered by the faithful, was effectively a form of purgatory redeemed only by the magic. Now that the magic is questioned and the mass stripped of its mystery, it is an event in search of a purpose. We are still a long way from the joy of the charismatics; the mass does need to be transformed into a human experience of consequence and a reaffirmation of life and hope.

In Tony's own words
the current text of the mass has amplified an old theology that no longer makes sense to the majority of the believing community.
In this chapter Tony challenges the dissection of the person into body and soul the latter being the priority at whatever cost to the former. He has come to a more holistic view of the person, which in turn leads to more attention to this life and again undermines the traditional environment which played into the hands of the control freaks in the CDF.

Tony examines the many complexities of the mass and the conflict between those who want to see it as a means of spiritual renewal and the others who see it as a means of control. He ends up with a very progressive and ecumenical view:
Nowadays, many people, including myself, who still believe that Jesus is present in the celebration of the mass, are not inclined to try to explain it in this or any other fashion, but are happy to leave the 'how' of his presence in the realm of mystery, something to be experienced rather than explained, and we would be very slow to say that he is not present in other Christian celebrations.
I would sum all this up with a passage from another author from some twenty years ago, a passage which harks back to Hans Kung and the Vatican Council.
The Vatican Council struggled with two conflicting paradigms of the Church. The medieval model saw the Church as a clerical and hierarchical institution with sacred power percolating down from the top. An earlier, scriptural model on the other hand considered the Church rather as the People of God, with stress on communion, co-responsibility, and Christian values such as grace and love. Though it could not free itself totally from the hierarchical model, the Second Vatican Council did attempt to promote the People of God concept.i The authorities in Rome on the other hand cling firmly to the hierarchical model and try to re-inforce what has recently been called “a very authoritarian, absolutist, completely un-Christian structure”. It has become clear that an integration of the best in both models can only be achieved by a genuine reform in the way the Church operates.63

63 H. Küng, ‘The Charismatic Structure of the Church’, Concilium 4,1 (April 1965) pp. 23-33; G. Hasenhüttl, Charisma, Ordnungsprinzip der Kirche, Freiburg 1969; H.Haag, Worauf es ankommt. Wollte Jesus seine Zeit-Stände-Kirche?, Freiburg 1997; L. Boff, ‘The Uncompleted Vision of Vatican II: The Church - Hierarchy or People of God?’, Concilium 38/3 (June 1999) pp. 31 - 39; see also the last chapter in this book.

Source: The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church - Unmasking a Cuckoo’s Egg Tradition, John Wijngaards, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, London, 2001, p 29.

Chapter 9 Can We Say Anything with Conviction About Eternal Life

The next life, overdefined, has alway been the key to the maintenance of clerical power.

But what sort of afterlife does Tony expect as he meditates on death, as I do myself, in the departure lounge. One thing is sure. He will no longer guarantee that you will meet your granny up above, on the assumption that she has not opted for the other place.
When we talk about eternity we tend to think of ourselves as individuals, we question where we will go, who we might meet again and if we will be the same as we are now in this world. Traditionally we would refer to the salvation of our souls. However, I believe that, unlike the conventional notion of soul, the spirit that is in us is not an individual thing. Rather it is the same Divine Spirit that infuses and energises everything, that permeates the cosmos. It cannot die, and consequently neither can we die, in the fullest sense of that word. I believe that in some mysterious way we will be absorbed more fully into the Divine.

Chapter 10 Faced with Enormous Challenges, Is There a Future for Our Church?

What I wish to do in this chapter is outline the implications of my views about our faith for our Church; in other words the type of Church that would, in my opinion, be best suited to promote the message of Jesus of Nazareth to the modern world.

First question, is the Church today the Church of Jesus? Did he found it and is it the way he would have wanted it?

The answer is clearly NO and NO. So where do we go from here. Tony has a long shopping list for what needs to change in the Church: the Pope as Supreme Ruler, a synodal Church, defenestration or abolition of the CDF, equal footing with other Christian churches, bishops chosen by popular suffrage, married priests, women priests, more open priestly formation, laity involved in church governance, and more. These are all touched on.

Tony's final paragraph:
One way or another there are stormy times ahead for our Church. Many battles will be fought and there will be deep divisions, and possibly splits and breakaway groups. I like the summary given by American writer Micheal Bayer, writing about the radical changes needed in the Church. 'The purgation will hurt. Smashing the patriarchy, extirpating the racism, eliminating the privilege and the self-satisfaction and the moral superiority is going to be painful as hell for a 2000-year-old institution that has accumulated much that has nothing to do with the gospel.'

Epilogue: The Terms of Surrender

Tony has added insult to injury by reproducing, at the end of the book, the Trumpian declaration of loyalty which the CDF wants him to sign.

The document sets out a number of doctrinal positions to which Tony is asked to submit as follows:
  • No women priests
  • Homosexual practices are contrary to the moral teaching of the Church
  • Marriage, other than between a man and a woman, is not allowed by the Church
  • Gender Theory is not accepted Catholic teaching

And the prize:
After the statement is signed and received a gradual readmission of Fr. Flannery to the exercise of public ministry will be possible by way of an agreement with this Congregation. Furthermore, given the fact that he has stated numerous times that he is not a theologian, he should be asked not to speak publically on the above-mentioned topics which have caused problems in the past.

This is a piece of arrogance typical of the Inquisition, a moniker which the CDF is currently trying to shed - unsuccessfully as far as I'm concerned.

I think I can safely leave you to work out this move for youself and you will not be surprised that Tony has refused to have anything to do with it.

Sunday, December 13, 2020


The church is St Mark's, Springfield, Tallaght and the mass is being celebrated on Sunday 13th December 2020.

It is being offered for, inter alia, the repose of the soul of Paddy Medlar on the first anniversary of his death. and his sister in law, Ann Olin, who died earlier this year.

It also includes an intention for the recovery of Seamus Doyle.

The celebrant is Fr. Gerry Fleming, SAC, who came to the Parish at end of last year.

The four people mentioned above are relations of mine.

Clicking on any image will take you to a gallery of larger versions which you can scroll through.

If you want to see the full mass click here for the church's webcam. Then click on RECORDINGS just above the image and choose the mass for 13 December 2020. The ceremony starts at 8 minutes 26 seconds into the recording.

Monday, November 23, 2020


Anne Soupa
Click on any image for a larger version

What an amazing event with We Are Church Ireland.

The background was that Anne Soupa, a 73 year old French theologian, writer and journalist, had offered herself as a candidate for the vacant archbishopric of Lyon.

The post became vacant after the occupant, Cardinal Barbarin, resigned following controversy over his handling of sex abuse cases.

Following Pope Francis's appeal for more women to be active in the church, Anne figured if her application was successful that as Archbishop in the most important diocese in France, she, like her predecessor would be an automatic candidate for a red hat and a seat at the next Conclave.

This would be a very fast and novel way of responding to the Pope's plea.

Apparently in the early Church you could be a bishop without being a priest and Anne had no ambition to be a priest. However, in the meantime over two millennia, the boys had sewn up the job.

Her example was followed by seven other women who put themselves forward as candidates for various offices in the Roman Catholic Church which were currently closed to women. But we'll come to them later.

Anne Soupa

Needless to say, Anne's candidacy got nowhere. She didn't even get the courtesy of a reply to her application, but she nevertheless feels that her campaign has attracted sufficient attention to raise consciousness of the unfair and unjustified discrimination against women holding holy office in the Church.

Meanwhile We Are Church Ireland booked her for one of their sessions, and tonight was the night. Anne had prepared a talk in English and after the usual introductions she launched into it. You can read her full text here. It is well worth your taking the time [8 minutes max] to read it as it both describes Anne's motivation and is a record of one woman's attempt at direct action to right a longstanding wrong
The ban on women from being a priest, deacon, a bishop, a pope, is an abuse of power. It is against this abuse of power that I rose. My greatest hope is that women, everywhere, stand up and make their voices heard also.
The night did not start auspiciously however as the sound on Anne's internet connection was not great and it periodically froze. Nevertheless we got the general message and Anne finished up and prepared to deal with questions. At some point she vanished altogether and the host decided to press Laurence de Bourbon, who was in the audience into service.

Laurence de Bourbon

Laurence de Bourbon Parme
[I'll get a more appropriate photo when the recording is up]

Laurence was one of the seven women referred to above and she had put herself forward for the office of lay preacher.

Soline Humbert

Laurence was more at ease speaking in French so Soline became her interpreter.

Laurence had actually got an audience with the French Papal Nuncio and they had a long and deep conversation in the course of which he authorised her to do baptisms and came perilously close to ordaining her to the priesthood, a role she was not seeking.

Laurence had been doing spiritual healing for years and was well up to sparring with a mere nuncio.

We then got Anne back on a slightly better line and she dealt with questions from the audience. Although she had rehearsed some replies in English to questions supplied earlier, it was quite clear that she was more at home in French and Soline embarked on her second round of interpretations of the night.

It emerged that Anne did not think she had any prospect of getting the job but I don't think she thought she would just be ignored. Nevertheless she felt that the publicity she attracted brought the issue into wider focus and the idea was to keep hacking away at this until the movement gained sufficient traction to embarrass the boys out of keeping it up.

One questioner asked what men could do to further the women's cause. I think the answer might have surprised him when Anne suggested that the men should refuse to perform all those roles which were denied to women.

I had filed a question asking if she thought it would eventually come to a choice for the church between ordaining women or going down the tubes.

Her answer was brief: "it already has".

Incidentally I also suggested in the chat line that Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Paris, André Armand Vingt-Trois, would have done well to have changed his name by deed poll, particularly when you consider the embarrassment of the Pope addressing him in Italian as "il Cardinale Ventitré".

This is the man who once said:
"The most difficult issue is to find appropriately formed women. It's not enough just to wear a skirt, they need to have something in their heads."
This was in 2008, referring to lectors. But what happens when the Church is presented with a mature skirt with loads of brains for a job. Not even an acknowledgement.

Hélène Pichon

Hélène Pichon

In the middle of all this, Anne spotted Hélène in the audience and called her into play. Hélène was another of the seven women and she had applied to be a nuncio, something she had wanted to be since she was a young child.

Hélène was on her way home from work in the train - which explains the picture above.

She also got a chat with the Nuncio which seems to have gone well, but, of course there was no vacancy for the moment, which sort of got him off the hook.

Reception improved somewhat when Hélène got off at her station and we saw her reaching home safely before the end of the night.


It is very difficult to see how this issue will pan out. The boys are so entrenched and so convinced of their superiority and entitlement that they will, no doubt, have to be carried out screaming. If they are not, then the Church will continue its downward spiral into irrelevancy.

Colm Holmes & Soline Humbert

Colm was the host and Soline, as we know, the interpreter. Note the inclusive Last Supper in the background.

Follow up

The seven women are known as "Toutes Apôtres", meaning they are all apostles, and this is their Press Kit. It is in French but you could always copy and paste extracts into Google translate.

I'll put up a link here to the recording of the session as soon as it is available. Don't be discouraged by Anne's bad internet connection at the beginning, it's well worth persevering.

For myself, just meeting these three women tonight has been great.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020


I have the Bishop's word on it.

You see above my poor mother's novena to St. Joseph. She had it because it was reliable. St Joseph delivered. Or to put it more accurately, theologically speaking, St Joseph's intercession with the Good Lord delivered.

And he was not like St Anthony who put a cash price on his intecession. I have gone into that elsewhere and will not repeat it here.

Not that my mother had any problem with holy fundraising. She sold masses, though that was not quite how it was described at the point of sale.

Anyway, back to the novena. And what is so special about this one?

Well, it comes with a holy health warning authorised by no less a person than the Bishop himself.

In my day people had a lot of faith in prayer. Prayer could move mountains. But you didn't always get what you asked for and the holy rationale for this was that the Good Lord had witheld the granting of the request because what you had asked for might not have been in your interest.

Fair enough, but what's sauce for the goose ... !

Here is the Bishop implying that God might grant a request that wasn't really in your interest.

All I can do here is plead for a bit of divine charity for God who, not being a malicious person, may occasionally doze on the job, or is that only on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Click on any image for a larger version

When Joe handed me a copy of his book recently I had no idea what to expect. I had never met Joe and knew nothing about him. But I promised to give him a reaction, and this is it.

It is a most engaging book, part biography, part religious tract, but with a difference. It is not telling you what to believe but rather questioning current Catholic Church teaching over a wide range of issues. This questioning comes from Joe's own life experience and his empathy with other human beings.

The style of writing is open and simple. You can identify with Joe along the way and his take on things would be very close to my own.

He takes us through his youth in Sligo, national & secondary school,his decision to become a priest and minister in Texas, his formation in All Hallows and UCD, and his actual ministry in Corpus Christi in Texas.

Joe was an independent thinker from early on and, while still in the seminary, he wrote to the Irish Press criticising Pope Paul VI's betrayal of Vatican II with his ill-fated encyclical Humanae Vitae. He just about avoided being expelled over that but the betrayal of Vatican II became a recurring theme in his life.

His ministry in the States among poor Hispanics gave him a touch of what is grandiosely referred to as liberation theology but what is in reality simply an acknowledgement of the obligation to care for the temporal as well as the spiritual needs of the poor.

Among the Church doctrines that made less and less sense to him was the insistence of mandatory celibacy for all priests. This led to him reconsidering his vocation to this specific form of priesthood.

He took a sabbatical to consider his position and then applied to leave the ministry. This was refused by the Vatican while they made further enquiries. This looked like obstruction by the Vatican in the light of Joe's views.

Joe & Maureen

It is during this period that Joe met Maureen Leonard who had been on a similar spiritual journey. She had left her religious order and they got engaged. It was Maureen who introduced me to her husband Joe earlier this year.

It would take a whole volume to delve into Joe's issues with the Church, but you'll get a good summary from his letter of 12 November 2018 to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. He wrote in similar terms to his PP and the Papal Nuncio.

An ongoing issue for him from early on has been the abysmal and discriminatory treatment of women by the Church. As he says, there is no justification whatsoever for the ban on married and women priests.

Above is one of Seán O'Brien's gentle but savage cartoons on this subject (from 1997). That these cartoons are still as relevant as ever more than twenty years later will give you an idea of how far the Church has moved in the interim.

Joe makes good use of Seán's cartoons throughout the book. They grow on you.

The title of Joe's book is SPEAK OUT and that's why he wrote it. He is hoping that it will encourage sincere, but hitherto passive, Catholics to take up the baton from Vatican II and run with it.

You will see from his letter that he is asking Catholics to write to their parish priest, bishop and the papal nuncio in similar terms (mutatis mutandis !).

Joe Mulvaney

Out with the quill and ink pot then, and away you go.

You can get the book from ePrint or We Are Church Ireland [& scroll down].

It's an easy read and a great introduction to the sad state of the Catholic Church and where it should be going from here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


A context, a serious question, and a suggestion.

The Context

Once upon a time, to get Mass, you had to be physically present for the segment covering the Offertory to the Priest's Communion.

Then we had Mass on the radio, and subsequently on the television, and this was deemed to fulfill the obligation of those who could not physically attend the ceremony.

We are now in a situation where churches are closed and over 70s are all confined to home.

The Question

The Real Presence is supposed to materialise in both the priest's big host and, for example, the large quantity of those smaller hosts, untouched by the priest, and stored in the ciborium.

My question is this. If the priest can consecrate hosts without actually touching them, could he do this over the airwaves in an emergency situation?

The Suggestion

My suggestion is
  • relax the current needless requirements for the strict composition of the host/bread/biscuit.
  • allow people, attending mass remotely, to take a morsel of ordinary domestic bread
  • enable the priest to consecrate it remotely
  • a safeguard would be to limit the actual effective consecration to bread in the hand of those who, in good faith, wish to, and are entitled to, receive communion.

I do not see any valid theological or other objections to this suggestion.

Any takers?

Friday, February 14, 2020


Fr Roy Donovan
Click on any image for a larger version

You might think that the title of this post was a remark by a member of the Legionaries of Christ thrown at Roy Donovan.

Actually I picked it up from a comment directed at Roy on the Facebook page of We Are Church Ireland. And this is 55 years after Vatican II.

But there's more. Soline Humbert, in introducing Roy told us he'd survived four run ins with his Bishop. And would you believe one of these was on that very subject. The Bishop in question was the eventually sidelined Dermot Clifford with whom I had my own problems.

So how did Roy survive that encounter with his Bishop. Well that's his story to tell. But I'll give you a clue. As well as being a priest in good standing, Roy is a psychotherapist.

We Are Church Ireland in a tweet, described Roy's talk as a "fearless" speech, and fearless it was.

Roy called for a totally renovated church. "When the horse is dead, its time to get off."

What he called for sounded to me like a church founded on what became pejoratively known as "liberation theology", a movement suppressed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and in his former incarnation by Pope Francis.

Roy is well familiar with that approach from stints in the USA where he spent some time in enlightened company.

And then there's the women. Roy severely criticised the church for its treatment of women. He portrayed the church's denial of equal status for women within its ranks as a disgrace.

And that opinion was backed up by his credentials from having done a course in feminist theology run by none others than Louise Gilligan (RIP) and Katherine Zappone.

In fact Roy's views would lead you to wonder why he hasn't been meted out the same treatment by the Inquisition (CDF) as Tony Flannery, whose views are very similar to Roy's.

It would give some credence to Tony's view that the treatment meted out to him was not unrelated to his being a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests at the time.

Tony's treatment is presented today as being a response to his questioning the origins of a male celibate priesthood, but in my view, the Inquisition were reacting to a wider range of Tony's views. And the proof of this particular pudding is their insistence that he sign up to an open ended commitment to whatever they thought church teaching ought to be.

Of course we are led to believe today that Pope Francis has clipped the Curia's wings and that further silencings are unlikely though any widespread reinstatings are equally so.

Anyway Roy deplored the church's treatment of Tony Flannery and Seán Fagan (RIP) and others and called for Tony's reinstating.

Now, Roy didn't mention Vincent Twomey by name but I will.

Vincent recently called for a ceremonial day of repentance by priests for all the abuse perpetrated by some of those from among their ranks. It is not clear to me if Vincent was including the hierarchy in this, but if he was he is due for a disappointment, I think.

Tony Flannery called for something similar from the Bishops in the run up to the 2012 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The hierarchy's response was simply to tog out in top-of-the-market new gear. Up yours, so to speak.

Vincent has additionally called for the priests, when celebrating the Eucharist (saying mass) to turn their backs to the people and stop trying to be entertainers. God between us and all harm. We should have made Vincent a bishop and let him lead the way.

John Paul II declared, invoking the full force of papal infallibility, that women could never be ordained priests. This, in my view, so devalued the idea of infallibility that it could never again be taken seriously.

I think I heard Roy making a disparaging passing reference to infallibility but would not swear to this in court if called to give evidence.

Personally I can never hear the word infallible without it conjuring up my favourite ex cathedra vision (for which see the bottom of this post, after you have read the rest).

Following his attendance at the Jesuits' industrial college, Roy has some insight into how the church manages conflict. The point is that it doesn't.

Instead of acknowledging conflict and attempting to resolve it in a constructive manner by entering into dialogue, it just issues edicts from on high and if any of the flock raise objections, it's off with their heads.

Francis has been Pope now for seven years and what has he got to show for it?

He has appeared to leave some questions open and has invited contributions from the faithful. The charitable interpretation of this is that he needs a bit of support on the ground before he can put manners on the Curia and the traditionalists.

Well the German bishops are about to sock it to him with their policy-making synod.

A current litmus test of Francis's possible commitment to change has been his awaited response to the Amazon Synod where he was advised to accept the idea of married priests, at least for the Amazon region. This would be taken by many as a precursor to more equality for women.

Roy had the story of a woman who had a vocation to the priesthood and was just hanging in there. If there was no progress enshrined in the Pope's letter of reply to the synod, she would walk.

Well, the letter has just been issued and there is no progress on this issue. Francis funked married priests, though pass had already been sold by Benedict (Prodestant Ordinariate) as did Paul VI in 1968 though Pius XII had already sold the pass with the rhythm method or as it is better known Vatican Roulette.

Roy is a member of the administrative team of the Association of Catholic Priests.

The Association was set up some years ago by Brendan Hoban, Tony Flannery and Sean McDonagh. It is hard to describe what it does as it spans the doctrinal and pastoral areas.

Regarding the former, it is campaigning for the implementation of Vatican II and on many human rights issues which have arisen since.

Regarding the latter, it is particularly active in supporting a clergy where such support is not forthcoming from the church itself.

If you want to pursue this further you can read their constitution here.

I bring them up, in part because they have recently dipped their toes into the Twitter sphere. I wondered if Roy was their Twitter master, as the tweets have a distinct edge to them. But it's not him, though he did agree about the edge.

I agree with Roy that the church needs root and branch reform. Were this to happen it would be a flatter, non-hierarchial, people oriented organisation. It is difficult to see this happening, with so many of its members in thrall to existing dogmas and traditions. This is why I think I detect an element of despair in Roy's psyche. But he is soldiering on.

From my own experience of the church, which I have left or it me, take your pick, the following are among the areas needing courageous revisiting: Real Presence, Resurrection, Infallibility, Confession, Conscience, Women. Priesthoood, LGBT+, Mass, Prayer, Indulgences, Afterlife, Curia, Censorship/Silencing, Gear, Civics. and so on.

And, of course, a recall mechanism for saints, particularly in view of some recent hasty canonisations.

Following his own advice about the church going among the people, Roy circulated among the attendance during the Q&A.

Roy's parting shot: Man who tell truth need fast horse.

You can see the full video here.

Nieves Fernandez

We had two for the price of one on the night, as Nieves, who is a member of the WACI core group, gave us her reflections on some of the themes touched on by Roy.

She got straight to the point. If Jesus came back today he would not be making straight for High Mass in the Pro-Cathedral. He'd be breaking bread with some of the locals.

She didn't see the need for priestly cast. Folk can be geared up to do it all, all. But I'm sure she must feel that, in the meantime, the rejection of women offends.

She told us that when she was teaching, she took students on a visit to Israel. Out of curiosity she bought a Hebrew bible and then noticed another thick volume. It turned out to be Jewish jokes.

We must be able to laugh at ourselves. Humour is vital.

However, I note that you can't tell these in company any longer!

Nevertheless, here's one of mine.

Thank you, Nieves.

Nieves presented Roy with the traditional gift for the speaker. A picture of the Last Supper where both women and children were in attendance.

Followed by the kiss of peace.

On my way back to the DART I bade good night to Oscar Wilde, reclining opposite his birth place.

Oh yes, infallibility?

I have reserved a space below for my favourite EX CATHEDRA vision, mentioned above.

It is a complicated image, the more so in the light of JPII's invocation, and the present Pope's maintenance, of the glass ceiling for women.