Flannery, Austin (1925–2008), priest, scholar, editor, journalist and social justice campaigner, was born William ('Liam') Flannery on 10 January 1925 at Rear Cross, Co. Tipperary, the eldest of seven children of William K. Flannery and his wife Margaret Flannery (née Butler), merchants, publicans and hoteliers there and later at New Ross, Co. Wexford. After national school in Rear Cross, he attended St Flannan's College, Ennis, Co. Clare, for a year, before completing his secondary education at Newbridge College, Co. Kildare, a Dominican institution where he revelled in an environment spurring independent thinking. He joined the Dominican order in 1943 and made his first profession in September 1944. After studies at St Mary's Priory, Tallaght, Co. Dublin, and (after the second world war) at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford – where his exposure to European, especially German, Dominicans in training was to have a lasting influence – Flannery was ordained a catholic priest on 2 September 1950 and adopted the forename Austin. He attended the Angelicum in Rome, was awarded a doctorate in dogmatic theology, and taught theology at Glenstal Abbey for two years in the mid 1950s, before returning to Newbridge College for a year to teach Latin there.
In August 1957 Flannery became editor of the Irish Dominican periodical Doctrine and Life, in which he publicised liturgical developments to clergy, religious and laity. Writing and lecturing widely from the late 1950s on sacred art and architecture, he urged dialogue amongst architects, artists, theologians, liturgists, and the lay community. He was active in the annual Glenstal liturgical congress (1954–73), in which another participant was J. G. McGarry (qv), editor of the Furrow (to which Flannery occasionally contributed); both were co-opted onto the church exhibitions committee of the RIAI in 1956. Through lectures, exhibitions and seminars they promoted awareness of northern European liturgical developments. Flannery was exercised by the limited awareness in Ireland of the liturgical movement, as indigenous ecclesiastical architecture largely ignored European developments well into the 1960s. He served on the advisory committee on sacred art and architecture established in 1965 by the Episcopal Liturgical Commission of Ireland, which produced a Pastoral directory on the building and reorganisation of churches (1966). Revised and expanded (1972) – promoting free-standing altars to facilitate the priest's celebration of the mass while facing the congregation – the directory sought to engender an active, participant laity. Flannery wrote an influential introduction to Richard Hurley's and Wilfrid Cantwell's Contemporary Irish church architecture (1985). An astute artistic critic, who promoted the sculptors Oisín Kelly (qv) and Imogen Stuart, Flannery remained at the forefront of the Irish liturgical movement, mediating delicate discussions among progressive liturgists, the institutional church, and the artistic and architectural communities.
Flannery joined Seán Mac Réamoinn (qv), Desmond Fennell, John Horgan, Patrick Masterson and Jack Dowling in forming a discussion group of Catholic intellectuals, who became known as 'Flannery's Harriers'. Meeting in various Dublin city-centre venues to debate and dispute during the early 1960s, during 'unity week' in 1963 they engaged in discussion with Church of Ireland clergy, especially Archbishop George Otto Simms (qv). Together they approached the abbot of Glenstal, Dom Joseph Dowdall, suggesting that the 1964 liturgical congress there be opened to non-Roman catholics. The ensuing ecumenical congress was held in June 1964 with Roman catholic, Church of Ireland, methodist and presbyterian clergy attending.
In Doctrine and Life Flannery publicised preparations for the coming ecumenical council, and subsequently covered proceedings of the second Vatican council for the Irish Independent. Translating the conciliar documents as they emerged, he edited and compiled detailed annotated commentaries, by himself and others, for the ensuing Vatican II: the liturgy constitution (1964). Aware from the early 1960s that large-scale attendance at masses imbued an increasingly false sense of religious engagement, he urged the benefits of participation inherent in the emergent vernacular mass. Promoting the new teachings emerging from Vatican II to clergy and laity alike, and emphasising the spirit of 'active participation', in an address to the Grille group of socialist catholics (1969), Flannery deployed the metaphor of 'a great medieval cathedral in a pagan city' as indicative of the increasingly obvious lack of religious observance and the declining societal relevance of religion (Ir. Times, 4 March 1969).
Based from 1957 in St Saviour's Priory, Upper Dominick Street, Dublin, Flannery was appointed prior (for a three-year term) in December 1967, and served as a definitor of the Irish Dominican province from 1977. In June 1963 he led the requiem mass at the funeral of Mr and Mrs Leo Staples, who died when their home on nearby Bolton Street collapsed. A frequent contributor to RTÉ radio religious and arts programmes, from October 1967 he presented Outlook, a late-night religious affairs series. Concerned by the grave poverty and dilapidated housing that he witnessed daily in Dublin's inner city, in May 1968 he hosted an Outlook discussion addressing housing shortages in Dublin with the communist leader Michael O'Riordan (qv) and the architect and activist Uinseann MacEoin (qv) of Sinn Féin. This drew the ire of leading government figures such as the Minister for Finance Charles Haughey (qv) and the Minister for Local Government Kevin Boland (qv), whose antipathy partly reflected growing Fianna Fáil perceptions of a leftist bias against them in RTÉ. Liberal press commentary noted that Flannery's stewardship of the programme embodied the mindset of progressive (to some, militant), socially concerned priests, placing Flannery alongside the Jesuit Michael Sweetman (qv), curate of Gardiner Street, Dublin, and a fellow Dominican priest, Fergal O'Connor (qv).
From August 1969 Flannery was a member of the executive committee of the Northern Relief Coordination Committee, and raised funds on behalf of the families of those interned without trial in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. Alongside Terence MacCaughey, Rickard Deasy and others, he campaigned with Citizens for Civil Liberty against the 1969 criminal justice bill of Minister for Justice Micheál Ó Mórain (qv), who alleged in the dáil that the group was a Sinn Féin front (Ir. Times, 5 May 1969). Campaigning in the 1960s for the preservation of the Georgian architecture on Dublin's Hume Street, he opposed the Wood Quay redevelopment in the 1970s, and campaigned for nuclear disarmament, against capital punishment, and for improved conditions in the Irish penal system. He was a prominent member of Irish Voice on Vietnam and of the Common Market Defence Campaign (which opposed Ireland's accession to the EEC).
From 1966 Flannery became prominent in the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement (IAAM). Opposing the racist and oppressive regimes in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Rhodesia and South Africa, the IAAM drew together a coalition of liberals, socialists, left republicans, and trade unionists. Protesting against sporting contests with South African teams, notably the Ireland–South Africa rugby international in Dublin (9 December 1969), Flannery became the public face of the campaign and helped confer a degree of clerical legitimisation on the organisation (O'Sullivan, 144) as chairman (1970–75) and president (1976–84), making frequent public appearances and writing tirelessly to Irish newspapers on its behalf.
Flannery engaged with a variety of interdenominational and ecumenical groups: he was a board member (from 1979) and chairman (1984–90) of the Irish School of Ecumenics, and featured the work of those attached to the school in Doctrine and Life. Preaching at a 1984 British Legion Remembrance Day ecumenical service in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, he wore the red poppy, a gesture of reconciliation indicative of his internationalist views. In November 1970 he was a founding member of the Association of Irish Priests, which sought to implement changes emanating from Vatican II, and publicised their work in Doctrine and Life; in the 1990s he was press officer to the National Conference of Priests of Ireland. With John Horgan he co-edited 'Humanae vitae' and the bishops (1972), which argued for a more liberal attitude to artificial contraception, and in the early 1980s he called for the church to allow priests to marry. With Fergal O'Connor he co-edited Abortion and law (1983), a special number of Doctrine and Life contextualising legal issues surrounding the 1983 referendum that resulted in a constitutional ban on abortion; he campaigned against the proposed amendment. During the 1987 divorce referendum, Flannery opined that 'the future of religion will be based on personal conviction rather than herd instinct. I would welcome that, if it deepens people's faith' (Ir. Times, 7 April 1987). From spring 1969 he issued a quarterly series, Supplement to Doctrine and Life, for nuns and priests, which became in 1981 the bi-monthly Religious Life Review, which he edited until 2003; he also founded Scripture in Church (1970) and Spirituality (1995). Retiring as editor of Doctrine and Life in December 1988 after thirty-one years, he remained as manager of Dominican Publications until 2003, and then became honorary editor-in-chief.
His output as both editor and author was extensive, and includes The changes in the mass: a summary of the new rubrics (1965), co-edited with Michael Harty; The church at prayer, a translation and adaptation of the French handbook on liturgy, co-edited with Vincent Ryan in two volumes: i: Introduction to the liturgy (1968), and ii: The eucharist (1973); and Light for my path: the new code of canon law for religious: digest, source material, commentary (1983), co-edited with Laurence Collins. Arising from his editorship of Doctrine and Life and Religious Life Review, he edited Missions and religious (1968), The liturgy: renewal and adaptation (1968), and Towards the 1994 synod of bishops: the views of religious (1993). Emanating from the Vatican council he edited numerous collections of documents, including Vatican II: the church constitution (1966), Vatican Council II: the conciliar and post conciliar documents (1975), and Vatican Council II: more post conciliar documents (1982). Flannery extensively revised Vatican Council II (1975) as Vatican Council II: the basic sixteen documents: constitutions, decrees, declarations: a completely revised translation in inclusive language (1996), replacing patriarchal terminology with inclusive forms (fratres with 'brothers and sisters'; homines with 'men and women'); the male pronoun of God was retained unless easily avoidable. This sequence became the standard English-language translations, widely cited internationally simply as 'Flannery'. A Festschrift, Freedom to hope? (1985), published to mark Flannery's 60th birthday, assessed Irish catholicism and ecumenism in the twenty years after Vatican II.
Central to progressive thinking within the Irish catholic church for five decades, Flannery identified with leading figures of 'liberation theology', such as Archbishop Hélder Câmara (1909–99) of Olinda and Recife in Brazil, and strongly questioned precepts of the clerical and institutional church. A dissenting contrarian during a time of rapid societal transformation, Flannery consistently supported the human rights of minorities and the downtrodden – true to his Dominican vocation and deep commitment to the gospel. He was awarded the degree of master of sacred theology (STM), the Dominican order's highest academic distinction, in 1997. Flannery's lasting contribution was in documenting Vatican II; assessing the impact of the council after forty years during a 2003 interview on Vatican Radio, he suggested that Gaudium et spes (the constitution on the church in the modern world, concerning inter alia the engagement of religious orders with social justice) was the most influential of all the conciliar documents.
Flannery embodied the post-Vatican II conception of the priest as a social catalyst engaged by the gospel, closer to his flock than to the clerical hierarchy. He had a great gift for friendship, was indefatigably interested in people, and courted religious affairs commentators and journalists at a time when the hierarchy ignored them, magnifying his influence. He died 21 October 2008 of a heart attack at Kiltipper Woods Care Centre, Dublin, and was buried 24 October, after a funeral mass at St Saviour's, in the Dominican plot, Glasnevin cemetery.