The following was supplied by an Irish Catholic priest known to the Irish Central editors who did not want his name used for fear of retribution

Fr Tony Flannery, a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests, has been "invited" by Rome to take some time out to consider his position.

He has been one of those who have been calling for reform in the Catholic Church in such areas as the role of women, ecumenism etc. It is not possible to speak about "reform" in the Church , be it in Ireland or elsewhere, without bearing in mind the ever present elephant in the room, namely the roman Curia and the Papacy.

The need for reform here has been and remains paramount. No question in contemporary Catholicism, however, is proving more intractable and more acutely sensitive.

Roman control of the Church is now more centralised and rigid than ever before. It would seem that they now demand total conformity with papal ideas and ideals in all things and not merely in those which are essential to the unity of the Catholic and Christian faith. Those who hold this position seek to derive their theological, political, and even cultural ideals from the Pope and Curia of their time.

They frown upon legitimate local autonomy, regional diversity and freedom to explore issues of theology and Church policy  on which Rome is particularly sensitive. It has come to a point where the Bishop of Rome is regarded less of a bond of unity and charity in the Church than as an oracular figure to be reverenced in his person with quasi sacramental fervour. It becomes a tyranny whenever it successfully creates an atmosphere in which open enquiry and honest dissent are  construed as disloyalty or worse.

It is a form of fundamentalism, and it trivialises debate, particularly in the theological field by reducing all issues to questions of authority and obedience. Thus from the start the controversy over Humanae Vitae (family planning) there was a damaging ambiguity over whether the substantive issue was contraception or Papal authority.

The same has happened to such topics as infallibility, the role of women in the Church, ecumenical concelebration of the Eucharist and so on. One is left with the impression that these areas are simply off limit to any Catholic who cannot guarantee that his or her findings will support the contemporary conservative Roman position.

When one uses the term "Vatican II" nowadays, as far as many are concerned, one could well be speaking about the Pope's second residence. The period of the Council was certainly one which promised much, flashed with brilliance and yet was ultimately riddled with disappointment.

Initially there was a mood of optimism and buoyancy among many Catholic scholars. Yet in little more than a generation this noble exercise has become a debacle, a shambles. If John XXIII threw open the windows his recent successors have called in the triple glazers.

Vatican II seemed to promise a changed atmosphere. Many of us welcomed the new openess, the abandoning of paranoid attitudes to the world, the renewed interest in different forms of prayer, liturgical reform, emphasis on the responsible use of freedom, ecumenical initiatives, and all the other ideas and activities which had hitherto been either inaccessible or forbidden to us. Now, it would appear that we are returning to an authoritarian era where the Church will meet its problems, not by discussion and open investigation but by decree. Fr Tony Flannery is the latest to learn this lesson. Nevertheless we "hang in there".

In a shipwreck one does not give up one’s seat in the lifeboat merely because the crew have delusions of grandeur. In the last analysis many of us traipse on because we still believe in the possibility of a synthesis between the essential truths of our religion and the essential truths of modernity.

A century ago a great Irishman, Fr George Tyrell spoke of his dream for the Church: "When the Catholic people represented by their bishops and their Pope will assemble, not to decide and impose points of theology, ethics and politics "under the pain of eternal damnation", but to proclaim the gospel of God's Kingdom upon earth as it was proclaimed by Jesus Christ; to preach unity in essentials, liberty in non-essential things, charity in all things".

That seems to be as good a programme as any that might be put forward in church circles today or any day.

Pope Benedict XVI addresses the crowd at St. Peter's Basilica in the VaticanGoogle Images