Irish liberal priests are being subjected to FBI Edgar Hoover like tactics says Fr Adrian Egan, the head of the Redemptorist Order in Limerick.

His comments came after The Vatican stated they were investigating fellow Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery for his liberal views on issues such as female priests and his criticism of the church sex scandal.

In a defiant show of public support for his "friend and colleague", Fr Egan said he was "hugely disappointed", "dismayed", "flabbergasted, shocked and amazed" at the move by the Vatican.

"I'm speaking on my own behalf and not for the Redemptorist order. I see nothing to be gained from silencing Tony. It doesn't sit well in today's culture and it doesn't benefit anyone. He (Tony) is articulating what he is hearing on the coal-face from ordinary people."

"The reality, too, is that, there are people sitting in churches on a daily basis that are almost listening to hear you express an opinion that might be seen as dissenting and they will report you.

"It's a little bit back like maybe in the Hoover days in America, where there are kind of agents all around the place that are willing to lift a phone, or write a letter, to a local bishop or the Vatican, and say, 'so and so did this', and it may be of the most minor thing, and yet, they can be taken seriously."

Egan said: "I want to be able to articulate what I feel and what I think about. We are now celebrating Holy Week this week and, in many ways, Jesus was a victim of those who wanted to silence him . . . They wanted rid of him.

"There is a sense of that here -- this is not how you deal with people who you disagree with," Fr Egan added.

"He certainly has my support and I'd be surprised if he doesn't have the support of the vast majority of his colleagues and of the congregation."

He stated the Vatican's stance against Fr Flannery: "isn't just a challenge to Tony, really. It's a challenge to anyone who wants to preach the good news and to do it in a way that is true to the spirit of the Gospel."

Another prominent priest, Fr Jimmy McPhilips, said he was "saddened" that Fr Flannery was being "censored".

"I also admit to feeling shock, anger, and a little fear. As a member of the Association of Catholic Priests -- like the other 900 plus -- we are now open to censorship or being 'silenced'."