Friday, February 14, 2020


Fr Roy Donovan
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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.

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