WAC to ZOOM with Tony Flannery: 2nd Nov 2020

Oct 17, 2020 | 3 comments

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    There are two sides to the debate about freedom of speech within the Catholic Church and Fr. Tony Flannery, whilst giving a most interesting talk on the podcast, address only the first side. One side is the right of theologians and scripture scholars to explore new approaches to centrally important theological, scriptural and spiritual issues. After all, that is precisely what Vatican 11 did. The terms ‘centrally important’ are vital but not always clear or agreed upon. For example, I do not regard priestly celibacy as centrally important whereas Jesus the Christ’s real presence in Eucharist is. Without that freedom doctrines, and the spirituality built upon them, will never develop and grow.

    The second side is the right of lay Catholic listeners/readers not to have their faith undermined or confused by books, articles, speeches that contradict traditional and centrally important Church teaching. This, of course, presupposes that Catholics make the effort to be appropriately and correctly informed about their faith and do keep up to date. I accept that as being a big presupposition which touches on personal responsibility and the role of parish. The second side also requires a body to make difficult decisions about what is helpful and acceptable to faith development and what is destructive. The current body in the Vatican performing that function has been far too restrictive and ignoring of the human rights of theologians to be consulted and listened to before a decision is taken about the acceptability of what they have written.

    • soconaill

      A huge difficulty I see is that problem of discerning and agreeing on what is central and what is not.

      You will find many references to a ‘hierarchy of truth’ in Catholic teaching, but nowhere to my knowledge is there an official statement on what lies at its ‘summit’.

      That would be the simpler version of the Creed, I suppose – and therein lies a tragedy. Never in my lifetime has any celebrant of the Mass dared to pause to ask ‘what is it we are saying here, centrally’ about the story of Jesus?

      I suspect that we are all to a degree intimidated by references to ‘the deposit of faith’ – and afraid to ‘go there’. Somewhere recently however Pope Francis insisted that the truth is not something trapped in vast quantities of text, but a ‘person’ to whom we can relate.

      Do we need this reminder because we think of ‘the truth’ now as indeed inseparable from ‘all of those unreadable documents’ rather than as a living and relatable reality, ready to assure anyone that academic intelligence is not in fact a requirement for a ‘sufficient’ and vital faith?

      The danger of merely academic intelligence (without a balancing emotional and spiritual intelligence) is that it will tempt us to ‘go on’ as though this gives us a privileged access to ‘the truth’ – the danger that St Paul spotted when he wrote that ‘knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’.

      If we cannot tell the story of the Creed as a love story that denies the inferiority of any person whatsoever we will be unable to see how academic intelligence can itself ‘crucify’ the person who does not have it – the person who may well be more loving, and therefore more wise.

      Could this be the reason that the academic church has such difficulty in being clear and succinct on what it means by ‘the hierarchy of truth’?

    • Gerald Donnelly graceB4meals.net

      You bring up an example of Priestly celibacy as not being centrally important whereas the Eucharist is. I don’t think anyone would deny that! However priestly celibacy has been a pillar in the Church long before living memory. How could the clergy teach the virtue of celibacy to single people or married people not wishing to conceive or the widow/er if they are not willing to practice it themselves? Surely they should lead from the front?

      I agree with you that some authors are continually undermining the faith of readers by using the title Fr/Sr. I have long argued that if a religious person writes a book or gives a talk contrary to the accepted view of the Church he/she should use their lay name. This would avoid confusion and be more acceptable. The hierarchy are rightly hurt that their religious employees seek to undermine their authority.


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