Saturday, January 26, 2013

Daddy what's a Protestant?

Soon I need to write a piece under the headline “Priest in Jesus didn't exist shock”.

But first, here's a Catholic joke. Daddy, what's the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant? Well, Catholics believe the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ, and Protestants think the bread and wine are just symbols to remind us of the Last Supper. Pause. Daddy, I think I'm a Protestant.

Like all good jokes it contains a germ of truth. And the truth here is that in my experience a large proportion of Irish Catholics are actually protestants. They don't believe in the bread and wine stuff, they don't believe the Pope is infallible (actually Papal infallibility is a huge subject which few people understand and I'm not one of them but my point is that understand it or not, many Catholics don't believe in it), they think there's a lot to be said for women priests, and that banning contraception is downright crazy. 

But they remain Catholics all the same. Disparaged as à la carte Catholics by some. Good Catholics according to themselves.

Sacerdotal malcontents 

Which brings me the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). Hundreds of Catholic priests in Ireland - dissident priests you might call them - have joined. 

Left, malcontents arrive for an ACP meeting. Right, Fr Tony Flannery an Irish priest suspended by the Vatican
There have been many readers’ letters in the Irish Catholic, some in favour of this new association, but mainly against.  A letter printed on 15 November 2012, called these priests “a variegated group of sacerdotal malcontents and attention seekers the Irish Catholic Church could well do without.  If they can't or won't accept the Church's magisterial teaching, why don't they just leave it?  The Church is neither an elected assembly, nor a debating society.  Let them form their own somewhere else!”

Even without accepting the letter writer’s point of view you can ask, well, why don't they?

And the only answer I can think of is, there must be a lot of sociology involved. 

Priesthood didn't originate with Jesus

And now to the Father Flannery affair. He is one of the founders of the ACP and is threatened with excommunication. The church denies this but yesterday's Irish Times ran a story Vatican threatened to excommunicate priest, documents confirm.

On Monday this week, Fr Tony Flannery had a prominent comment piece in the Irish Times under the headline Vatican's demand for silence is too high a price, condemning authoritarianism in the church. Fr Flannery said the Vatican wanted him specifically to recant statements he has made. What are these exactly? Well he thinks that women priests is a subject that ought to be discussed, and holds unorthodox views on contraception and homosexuality.

But here's the big one. Fr Flannery no longer believes 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.”  Instead, he wrote, “It is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had arrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda.”

These quotes are from an article published in 2010 in Reality, an Irish religious magazine.

Being Catholic is central to my identity

To which the only response is hurrah you tell ‘em Tony. The man’s a protestant. Those words of his are pure, core, protestantism.  And you can hardly blame the Vatican wanting him to recant the statement, and affirm that Christ instituted the church with a permanent hierarchical structure and that bishops are divinely established successors to the apostles.

But my main point is not what I think or the Vatican thinks but what Fr Flannery thinks. And he wants to stay in the Catholic Church.

In his Irish Times statement, linked above, he says he can't give up on freedom of thought, freedom of speech and most especially freedom of conscience; moreover he knows people will say he should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church, one more suitable to his stance ... nonetheless: “Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity.”

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