SOME conservative Catholics would be of the opinion that Mary McAleese’s comments about their Church being ‘an empire of misogyny’ went too far. What’s not in doubt is that they hit home and touched a raw nerve in an institution that, effectively, treats women as second class members.
The Catholic Church tends to be patronising in its attitude towards women and steadfastly refuses to allow their ordination as priests even though vocations have fallen away so badly in recent years that there are not enough priests left in Ireland to look after existing parishes and the age profile of those that are still there is getting older with every passing year, making the demands placed on them increasingly onerous.
Mary McAleese, who is a canon lawyer and a committed Catholic, and who is seeking to make the Church more relevant to people in the modern world, deserves better than to have her arguments treated with such disdain. As a former President of Ireland, she has a certain standing in the world that should command respect and she obviously doesn’t make such comments lightly.
Indeed, they exhibited a huge element of understandable frustration on her part, given the treatment she received in advance of the ‘Why Women Matter’ conference at which she was the keynote speaker on International Women’s Day. It was originally meant to have been held in the Vatican, but because of Mrs McAleese’s involvement and that of two other speakers, this was blocked by US Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who – ironically – is Irish-born, and it was held in Rome instead.
Describing the Church as ‘one of the last great bastions of misogyny,’ Mary McAleese certainly did not waste the opportunity to get her views about the Church hierarchy across forcefully, as she asked: ‘How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership, legal and doctrinal discernment and decision-making?’
In 2010, the Vatican upgraded the ‘crime’ of ordaining women to Catholic ministry, rendering it one of the most serious ‘crimes’ against Church law. One has to question the motivation behind this reinforcement of what can only be construed as a prejudice against half the Church’s membership and a determination that the rules are not for changing, even though the Church has rowed back on many of its more austere ones over the years.
Not ordaining women is a huge affront and one that will make the Catholic Church less and less relevant, not only to women, but to many sympathetic men as well. The institution will only have itself to blame if it maintains its intransigence in this regard.
Mary McAleese, quite rightly, laid down a challenge to Pope Francis to ‘develop a credible strategy for the inclusion of women as equals throughout the Church’s root and branch infrastructure, including in its decision-making.’