The silencing of an Irish priest, Father Kevin Flannery, by the Vatican because of his liberal views has once again damaged the church in Ireland and worldwide.

The fact that the Association of Irish Priests, 800 strong, has come out in opposition to the Vatican move underlines once again how ordinary priests are becoming increasingly angry at the heavy hand that rules from the Holy See.

Flannery made plain his opposition to how the church handled the child sexual abuse issue, stated he was in favor of women priests and offered other liberal opinions.

He was silenced by the church, whose rapid actions on this issue contrast sharply with the foot dragging everywhere over the horrific abuse scandals which continue to bedevil the church.

The continuing scope of those scandals is shocking.  In Philadelphia last week a trial heard how one priest in that archdiocese boasted openly of three sexual encounters with children in a week.

In Ireland, a class of parents of First Communion children were horrified when the parish priest inadvertently showed hard-core gay porn rather than instructions for their children in a video of necessary preparations for First Communion.

In other words, there is lots for the Vatican to feel enraged about.

A mildly turbulent priest in Ireland, expressing his feelings in his order's magazine, hardly seems likely to capsize the church in the way that the sex scandals and other matters may.

Cardinal Ratzinger, before he was elected pontiff, was known as the "Pope's Rottweiler" in matters of doctrinal faith.  He seems quite content to shape a smaller church of true believers than a broad tent. This appears to be a profound mistake.

The honest moral objections of one priest and his forthright views hardly seem worthy of the belt of the crozier that has been administered to him.

Worse, for the Vatican, this particular priest and the organization he heads, the 800 strong Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) is not going down lightly either.

The ACP issued a strong statement in support of Flannery which stated in part, “At this critical juncture in our history, the ACP believes that this form of intervention -- what Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recently called 'heresy-hunting’ -- is of no service to the Irish Catholic Church and may have the unintended effect of exacerbating a growing perception of a significant 'disconnect' between the Irish church and Rome.'

That is a tough statement, especially the line about heresy hunters which places in context where this association sees the Vatican going.

It seems incredible given the history of total obedience in the Irish church that an association of 800 priests would so openly challenge the church's moral authority.

Yet it is precisely because that authority has become so compromised by cover-up and obfuscation that they feel free to do so.

There are so many well-intentioned, hard-working priests who have no truck with scandals or moral judgments. They have never had a voice in the church.

Father Flannery was their voice, one that did not nakedly challenge church authority but asked for understanding and action on critical matters of importance to the laity.

Instead of censoring him, the church leaders would be wise to listen to him.