Controversial Irish cleric Father Tony Flannery is to defy the Vatican and break his silence on the campaign against him by Catholic Church authorities.
Father Flannery was silenced by the church last year over his advocacy of more open discussion on church teachings.
The New York Times reports that the 66-year-old was suspended by the Vatican after a series of public interviews.
He was told that he would only be allowed to return to ministry only if he agreed to write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality.
Speaking to the New York Times, Fr Flannery said: “How can I put my name to such a document when it goes against everything I believe in.
“If I signed this, it would be a betrayal not only of myself but of my fellow priests and lay Catholics who want change. I refuse to be terrified into submission.”
A regular contributor to religious publications, Fr Flannery will make his case public at a Dublin news conference on Sunday.
Father Flannery’s religious superior, the Rev. Michael Brehl, was instructed by the Vatican last year to remove Fr Flannery from his ministry in County Galway.
The Rev. Brehl was also ordered to ensure that he did not publish any more articles in religious or other publications or give interviews to the news media.
In the letter, the Vatican objected in particular to an article published in 2010 in Reality, an Irish religious magazine.
The report says that in the article the Redemptorist priest, wrote that he no longer believed that ‘the priesthood as we currently have it in the church originated with Jesus’ or that he designated ‘a special group of his followers as priests’.
He wrote: “It is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda.”
Now Fr Flannery says the Vatican wants him specifically to recant the statement and affirm that Christ instituted the church with a permanent hierarchical structure and that bishops are divinely established successors to the apostles.
He branded the church’s treatment of him as a ‘Spanish Inquisition-style campaign’ and claimed it is symptomatic of a definite conservative shift under Pope Benedict XVI.
Fr Flannery added: “I have been writing thought-provoking articles and books for decades without hindrance.
“This campaign is being orchestrated by a secretive body that refuses to meet me. Surely I should at least be allowed to explain my views to my accusers.”
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore