Outspoken Irish cleric Father Tony Flannery has admitted he faces excommunication from the church for backing the rights of women to become priests.

The 66-year-old priest has told a Dublin press conference that he is considering legal action against the Vatican after he was silenced.

Catholic Church leaders disciplined Father Flannery over his outspoken views last year.

He was also told that he will only be allowed to return to ministry if he ends his leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland.

A noted commentator on religious matters, Flannery told the media that he is being forced to choose between Rome and his conscience.

The Irish Independent reports that the priest, who joined the Redemptorists in 1964, is taking legal advice under canon and civil law.

Fr Flannery added that the ban on him ministering, which was imposed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), will continue until he fulfils the terms laid down by Rome.

Read more: Irish priest to break silence order from the Vatican at Dublin press conference

The terms include the publication of an article that has been pre-approved by the CDF and accepting that the Catholic Church can never ordain women.

He is quoted in the Irish Independent as saying that he must also accept the church’s stance on contraception and homosexuality and its refusal of the sacraments to people in second relationships.

Breaking the ban to speak to the media, Fr Flannery said: “I have served the church, the Redemptorists and the people of God for two-thirds of my life.

“I have in good conscience raised issues I believed important for the future of the church in books and essays largely read by practising Catholics, rather than raising them in mainstream media.

“I’m hardly a major and subversive figure within the church deserving excommunication.”

He told the conference that he will step down from the leadership of the ACP which numbers more than 1,000 Irish priests.

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He said he does not want to have his circumstances blurred with the association’s agenda.

The ACP released a statement saying that it believed the ‘targeting of Fr Flannery’ is not about church teaching but part of a worldwide effort to negate the influence of independent priests’ associations.

Fr Helmut Schuller, the leader of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, a reform-minded group similar to the ACP, described Fr Flannery’s treatment as ‘a scandal’ in the article.

A statement from the Irish Redemptorist Community said: “Although not all Redemptorists would accept Fr Flannery’s views, we understand and support his efforts to listen carefully to and at times to articulate the views of people he encounters in the course of his ministry.”

Read More: Dissident Irish priest fears excommunication over views on women priests