- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A blacklisted priest is calling on Catholics to keep up the momentum for change generated by this month’s Extraordinary Synod of Catholic Bishops, which divided church leaders on how welcoming the 2,000-year-old faith should be toward 21st century issues like gay marriage and divorce.

In his address to synod participants, Pope Francis said the church has one year “to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront.”

But Father Tony Flannery, founder of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, said Tuesday that the next 12 months “will be enormously important in the life of the church.”

“A major impact is the changing tone of the synod,” he said. “They began by talking about the real lives of people. That’s a real change for the church [as] normally it starts by talking about doctrine.”

Father Flannery shared his vision of a more accepting church during a newsmaker press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, the first stop of an 18-city speaking tour across the country.

A native of Galway, Ireland, he is a member of the Redemptorist Congregation. He was ordained a priest in 1974 and is the author of several books and was a columnist for the Redemptorist magazine Reality.

Father Flannery said he was called to Rome in 2012 by the Superior General of the Redemptorists, who told him the Vatican did not like some of his articles. He was forbidden to minister as a priest, a status that continues today. On Tuesday he wore a dark black suit coat with a white-and-blue-striped shirt unbuttoned at the neck.

“I’m an enormous believer in the Holy Spirit working through the lives of ordinary people,” he said. “Organize, get together. You need proper organization so that multiple voices come together as one very strong voice. It’s the only way your voice will be heard.”

Over the past two weeks, Vatican observers heard the voices of Catholic leaders from around the globe as they discussed family-related matters facing the church. The 14-day synod was a sort of agenda-setting meeting for a second synod scheduled for next year, but the more than 200 prelates and laypersons did not escape headlines.

Last week, a midterm summary saying gay people have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community” unleashed a wave of applause from gay rights advocates — and prompted backpedaling by conservative Catholic leaders. The wording was not included in the synod’s final report.

Father Flannery said, despite the setback, the synod process was radical for the church.

“It was the Vatican asking people for their opinion. This is new,” he said. “Everybody wishes to participate. When the gathering happens this time next year, it should not just be bishops and cardinals; the voices of laity should be right there in the decision-making.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of Catholic gay advocacy group New Ways Ministry, attended the press conference, and she said she was “disappointed [Father Flannery] didn’t come down strongly [in favor of] the ordination of women.”

But Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of FutureChurch, a Catholic advocacy group, said she took his message as a call to engage in discussions that aren’t necessarily comfortable.

“The future is with the laity,” she said. “Not many are ready to say that.”

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