Pope Francis has personally ordered that all sanctions be lifted on controversial Irish priest Fr Sean Fagan.
The 86-year-old had been silenced for the past six years by the Vatican after his criticism of the Holy See’s policy on clerical sex abuse.
The Irish Times is now reporting that Pope Francis is believed to have intervened directly with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to have all sanctions lifted.
Fr John Hannan, the superior general of the Marist congregation in Rome, confirmed to the paper that Marist priest Fr Fagan is no longer under sanction.
Fr Hannan said, “Fr Fagan is now a priest in good standing where the church is concerned.”
The paper reports that the change in Fr Fagan’s circumstances may have involved direct intervention by both Pope Francis and former Irish President Mary McAleese.
The report says that the Irish Times has learned that McAleese wrote to Pope Francis last December requesting that he directly intervene where Fr Fagan’s case was concerned.
The Marist congregation was informed of Fr Fagan’s changed situation at Easter.
Others approached to intervene with the Vatican on Fr Fagan’s behalf include his own congregation, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, the papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown and the former head of the Dominicans Fr Timothy Radcliffe.
Fr Fagan had been critical of rigid stances by the Vatican on issues to do with conscience and sexual morality notably in letters to the Irish Times.
He published a number of hard-hitting books and was informed in 2010 by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he would be laicised should be write for publication any material it considered contrary to Church teaching and should he disclose this to media.
All remaining copies of his book were bought up by the Marist congregation. The Marists' website said that the writings of Fr. Sean Fagan, in the book "What Happened to Sin," ‘do not have the approval of or represent the views of the Society of Mary.’
The CDF change of stance towards Fr Fagan is reportedly ‘because he loves the Church in spite of all its weaknesses: that he accepted his censure and observed his restrictions; and to his advanced age.’
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has welcomed the news in a statement.
ACP said: "It has been a source of great unease to our members and of continuing shame and embarrassment to our Church that a priest and theologian who has made such a huge contribution to Gospel and to Church over very many years would not be regarded as a priest ‘in good standing’."
“Statements welcoming the lifting of restrictions on Fr Fagan by the Marist Order, the CDF and the Irish Catholic bishops are the least that might be expected.
“The decision of the CDF, according to reports, was influenced by pressure brought to bear through the efforts of friends. A concerted effort by the orders and congregations, supported by the Irish bishops, could lead to the lifting of similar restrictions on other members of the ACP colleagues of Fr Fagan, and from the Marist congregation.”
The Irish Times said this is a reference to other priests silenced by the Vatican including Fr Tony Flannnery, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Brian D’Arcy, and Fr Owen O’Sullivan.