Fr Tony Flannery: an Up-to-Date Modernist
A look at Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery’s website will give you a depressing sensation of déjà vu. There you will find quite a few of the ideas condemned by St Pius X early in the 20th century.
Fr Flannery says, for instance, that Catholic doctrines on the Trinity, God and Our Lady come from a time when “there was a very different understanding of the world and of humanity”, and he insists that doctrine must adapt to “science”. This could be straight out of the thoughts of the original Modernist Abbé Loisy.
But Fr Flannery takes it further. I don’t know quite where he picked up the idea that in Catholic thinking, God is “a male individual”. The Daughters of the Holy Ghost taught me at the age of seven that God is Spirit—so by definition does not have a sex, or as forward-thinking people nowadays insist on our calling it, a “gender”. Later the Benedictines told me exactly the same, although they went into the matter in more detail. (I was glad to hear that Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin has told his priests that only words have a gender, while people have a sex. Quite right.) On the other hand, Jesus is God, and Jesus is Man as well as God, and is therefore, as touching His human nature, male. Surely Fr Flannery was taught this in school, if not in his Redemptorist novitiate?
The fact that Jesus told his disciples to address God as “Father”, not as “Mother” should be a bit of a problem for Fr Flannery, but he doesn’t address that one. Of course, we have a “Mother” as well—our Blessed Lady. But Fr Flannery regards Marian teaching as “maybe the most problematic area of all Catholic doctrine”. He wonders “how many of us really believe in the nativity stories and the virgin birth, and that Mary remained a virgin all her life and had no other children?” Not he, obviously.
Fr Flannery also goes on about how, in “the traditional understanding” God is “resident in the heavenly realm in the skies” . Once again, the good nuns taught me that God is everywhere. That’s in the old penny catechism too. I think it’s about time Father refreshed his memory.
He thinks that making the Trinity a dogma was “a big mistake” Instead, we should view God as “the spirit/energy/consciousness/presence in the whole of creation; a being that is in, and with all, aspects of creation including all humanity”. That doesn’t come near it. As someone in one of Bruce Marshall’s novels says, I’d sooner worship a bowler hat. Surely it’s far healthier, spiritually, to picture God the Father as an old man with a white beard—the biblical Ancient of Days.
Quite a few people are asking why, if Fr Flannery no longer believes Catholic doctrine, he doesn’t leave the Church, or at least resign from the priesthood. C.S Lewis is pertinent in this, as in so much else: This is his message to Dissenting Priests:
It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defence of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalises the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.
―from God in the Dock, pp. 89-90