Sunday, 15 September 2013

Research vs Opinion: Father Flannery makes political points on others' pain

Just glanced through this week's The Irish Catholic today and my eye fell on the front page headline 'No evidence' celibacy leads to abuse

The headline is taken from a quote from Professor Philip Jenkins who re-iterates what he has being saying for years based on his own extensive studies in the area: there is
no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more or less likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination - or indeed non-clergy or secular professionals dealing with children

This is from a specialist in history, criminology and religious studies, whose CV might be seen here and who has published a number of studies in the area.
Professor Philip Jenkins

Consider this is the light of one of Ireland's most vocal "silenced" priests, Rev Anthony Flannery CSsR (yes, it's Tony Flannery again), who seems to think
nobody within the official Church has looked at the deeper issues and seriously asked the question why so many priests and religious did these things, because it raises fundamental questions about the lifestyles of priests.

Can they say with any degree of definiteness that the fact that so many priests abused children is not connected to celibacy and clericalism and the whole style of life that a priest is forced to live today? I don't think they can and until such time as the Church authorities face up to that and seriously discuss it and investigate it, the problem will not go away.

Father Tony Flannery CSsR in the distinctive Redemptorist cassock

This may look ok to the naked eye, but Professor Jenkins would ask for
the evidence on which they base that opinion. "Everybody knows" does not constitute social scientific evidence.

In other words, Father Flannery may be throwing out a catchy sound byte, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. I've been down this road before. Father Flannery's confrere and fellow "silenced" priest, Father Gerard Moloney CSsR published an editorial in the Irish Redemptorist magazine Reality making the connexion between celibacy and child abuse, and also using the crisis to attack Benedict XVI's liturgical reform. I and a good number of other people wrote to Father Moloney about this and I enclosed a copy of an article I wrote on the topic in an earlier Brandsma Review based on research in the area. To be fair to Father Moloney, we received courteous replies. However, given the amount of research there is on paedophilia by clergy of all denominations and of secular professionals dealing with children and I will cite Philip Jenkins and Leon Podles as particular authorities who have studied several churches and several cultures over many years. Neither these nor any other scholar in this area I have read would back up Father Flannery's assertions. This is area is fraught with controversy. To take a look at the struggle a support group has in a different denominational context, visit the Awareness Center website.

As a parent, it pains me to say this, but the most significant factor in where paedophiles are found is easy access to children. As a Catholic it pains me to say the conduct of Catholic Church authorities in this regard across several countries and continents has been appalling and has done immense damage to the Church's mission. That this happens in other denominations is quite irrelevant as I expect more from what I believe to be the Church of Christ and from a priesthood I believe to be instituted by Christ Himself, which is an area Father Flannery has a problem with and which is why he has restrictions on his ministry. But to make, as many dissenting clergy do, a political point out of the pain of the victims and their families through unqualified linkage of paedophilia and celibacy adds to the pain. If he's not prepared to read up on the subject, he should close his mouth.


  1. I think his comment goes deeper than celibacy. He seems to object to celibacy not just per se but because it is something that marks out priests and religious as different from the laity. His comment is typical of him in its use of weasel words - he says "nobody in the official church has looked at the deeper issues.." thus implying that anyone who looks at the deeper issues must inevitably reach the same conclusions he has reached, and therefore he need not bother with evidence, analysis and the like.

  2. This is indeed the case and it fits in with his problem with the divine origin of the Catholic priesthood. It's like a procrustean couch here - evidence will be made fit the theory. Also, the ACPI technique is to play to the media rather than challenge it. Blaming celibacy is convenient for the media. This also fits an agenda. The victims are secondary in all this.

  3. Dear sir/madam, I am struck by a number of things in realtion to your article. Firstly the general tone of your article strikes me as profoundly disrespectful of a member of the prebyterate which as you say "I believe to be instituted by Christ Himself". While you may disagree with what Fr. Flannery says he is still a validly ordained priest and therefore deserving of the respect that is afforded to that office. Secondly, according to your own article and the expert on whom you seem to rely there is "no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more or less likely.."; this can be looked at from another angle, namely that there is no eveidence that what Fr Flannery asserts is not true, "there is no evidence..." Might I suggest, in fraternal love, that we pray for Fr Flannery and all presbyters and indeed one another, and rather than using this forum for 'ad hominem' discourse it might be better served answering the question 'what would Jesus do or have to say in this situation?' I can guess, although I do not claim to know, that HE would probably refrain from telling someone - anyone, but especially one acts in Persona Christi, "to close [their] mouth". Such activity is divisive and contrary to the basic teaching of Chirst in St. John's Gospel 'that they may be one'

  4. Conor is correct that we must pray for our priests, as the experience of Martin Luther, Arius and Judas Iscariot will show. In regard to evidence, as you can see I have studied the evidence myself. When you see the percentage of offenders among the Catholic clergy is round about the same as that of Protestant clergy or Rabbis for example, neither of whom have required celibacy, are you inclined to believe that celibacy is the problem? The most comprehensive body of evidence about paedophiles in the Catholic presbyterate and diaconate is the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Study. The fact that this shows an incredible surge of offences between 1965 and 1985 would, if anything, lend credence to the traditionalist argument that the Second Vatican Council caused it, which I doubt Father Flannery would have too much to say on (for the record, I don't believe this was the case, but I do believe that there was a state of confusion immediately after the Council which allowed this behavior flourish and this is something which people like Father Flannery have never taken on board). A propos of the celibacy argument and specialists in this area, Dr Leon Podles has challenged the Episcopal Church to institute its own John Jay study, something which they are not prepared to do. Within the Church of Ireland, the Very Rev Robert McCarthy (former Dean of St Patrick's) has said if the CofI was held up to the light as the Catholic Church has been, it wouldn't come out all that clean either. As for what Our Divine Lord would do; He has already done it by giving His Church the power to bind and loose. If you can use traditional Catholic language in your argument, you can understand this.

    1. Your points are extremely well made, and indeed you have clearly studied the evidence,I defer to your knowledge. However, I have a question; in making your points so clearly what are you doing to foster unity and love within the community of the baptised? It has been my experience that phrases such as "...people like Father Flannery..." are polarising and divisive. Personally I have stopped using terms such as: 'Right Wing', Left Wing','Conservative Catholic', 'Liberal Catholic', 'Traditional Catholic', 'A la Carte Catholic' as they serve no purpose other than to set us apart from one another and build un-necessary barriers.Again may I suggest, in fraternal love, that if we are to re-build our Church we all need to do away with this type of polemic. It serves the purposes of the devil alone. Would an outsider looking in at us say: "See how they love one another!" or would they more probably say, "they are tearing each other and themselves apart why would I want to have anything to do with them?" Fr Flannery, and indeed you and I are entitled to our views, we are entitled to express opinions and while we may disagree, even vehemently disagree, we must still love each other. SS Peter & Paul were able to come to accomodation over Jewish and non Jewish converts and thus build a strong, unified but diverse Church. Surely by engaging in loving, open minded discourse free from lables and 'ad hominem' attacks, we too can build a strong unified and diverse Church. "Father, I pray that they may be one, just as You and I are one..." In Caritas Christi, Conor.

    2. For a good analysis of Fr Flannery, see here: