Several leading priests in Ireland are predicting a “Catholic Spring” as dissent against the Vatican decision to ban Father Tony Flannery grows.

The Daily Beast website has reported that leading priests now believe that the Vatican has gone too far in silencing Father Flannery who has been sent to a monastery to reflect on his actions.The Association of Catholic Priests, which has 800 members, has already come out strongly against the silencing.

Another leading priest, Father Sean MacDonagh, a founder of the ACP, has now strongly criticised the Vatican move.

"It is a bit like Walmart, where you have the CEO in Rome and his people there decide on policy and then insist that the bishops, as branch managers, implement that policy,” he told the Irish Examiner.

"If Rome says ‘jump’ are we simply expected to say, ‘how high?’ Operating like a multinational where the number one requirement is obedience is at total variance with the Church of Jesus," said Fr McDonagh.

He defended the calls for women to play a more active and equal role, "In the first century, it was possible to articulate the message of Jesus and not have females in leadership roles because the culture of the time would not allow it and there was a very dark perception of what women were.

But, now, in the 21st century, the Church must discern where the Holy Spirit is leading it, and the Vatican should not be leading it backwards."

"Freedom of speech does not operate here when, in fact, the Church should be an example in that respect to others," said Fr McDonagh. Meanwhile an Irish Times editorial has stated that sending Flannery to a monastery for prayer and reflection may rebound and that the Vatican is wrong to regard him as a ‘turbulent priest.’ It stated that the decision to discipline him will increase the perception of a “disconnect” between Rome and Ireland.

The Times editorial stated, “The domestic reaction, from sections of the laity and some clergy, to the Vatican’s disciplinary action has been one of regret and concern. The ACP (Association of Catholic Priests) has described the Vatican’s intervention as “unfair, unwarranted and unwise”.

And it may well, as the association has warned, increase the public perception of a significant “disconnect” between the Irish church and Rome.

Fr Flannery has spent many years developing the views that he now holds, views that were no doubt influenced and shaped by prayer and reflection. But six more weeks spent in silent isolation in a monastery engaged in further prayerful reflection may not produce the outcome the Vatican now hopes from its disciplining of one it, wrongly, regards as a turbulent priest.

The Daily Beast reports that, “The Vatican has been watching Father Tony Flannery for a long time”.

They also identified the following paragraph as the one  that most landed Flannery in trouble after he wrote it.

“Opening up the ministry of the church to laypeople, to married people, to priests, to women. In other words, not confining it to the male celibate priesthood as we’ve had in the past, because clearly that is not working now, so we have to begin to think in different ways, but the Vatican is increasingly forbidding any discussion on that,” he wrote. "Many of us priests are very frustrated with the way the Vatican conducts its business.”

Daliy Beast reports that “A growing number of Catholic bloggers say the movement has the makings of what could be considered the beginning of a Catholic Spring uprising,” pointing out the statement by the Association of Catholic Priests.

That statement read, “We affirm in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Father Flannery and we wish to make clear our profound view that this intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise,”

“We wish to register our extreme unease and disquiet at the present development, not least the secrecy surrounding such interventions and the questions about due process and freedom of conscience that such interventions surface.”

Brendan Butler of  the lay Irish church lobby group, “We are Church Ireland”, told the Daily Beast that the move “amounted to a return to the Inquisition” and that the current Holy See governing body is worrying. “They are trying to bring our church back into rigid authoritarian centralized structures where all dissent is dealt with in a ruthless manner.”

Another prominent priest, Father Gabriel Daly, wrote in a priest’s publication called “Doctrine Life” that the church was attempting to silence all dissent and he seemed to be risking suspension himself.

“Aided by secrecy and the unchallenged exercise of power, the Curia has established effective control over the whole church,” he wrote in this week’s edition. “There is little or no concern for those faithful Catholics who are quietly appalled by what is happening. They are seen as simply wrong.”