“Only church of equals is worthy of Christ”: Mary McAleese


International  Women´s Day

imageBy Mike James

Of the world’s 194 recognized states at the United Nations, 3 have parliaments in which the percentage of female legislators is greater than that of men: Rwanda 61%, Cuba 53%, and Bolivia also 53%. All the rest have less women than men, starting with Nicaragua 43%, Guyana coming in currently at position 38 worldwide with 34% women in Parliament just ahead of the UK No. 39 with 32% women, USA No. 100 with just 19% women (and yet to elect a woman president) and at the bottom of the heap Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and Yemen with NO women legislators.

The Vatican City State, the world’s smallest country and categorized politically as an “absolute monarchy”, has of course, no parliament , but all the significant decision makers  in the Catholic Church under the Pope,  from the Cardinals (electors of a New Pope), Heads of all its  dicasteries (equivalent to Ministries),  its Papal Nuncios (Envoys to other States around the World)  are most senior clerics, and are therefore men.

This situation where all leadership positions in the Catholic Church, down to its smallest administrative unit, the Parish, are held by men has been defended by the hierarchy with arguments that Jesus only appointed  men as priests and leaders of the first Christian communities, that Christ himself was a man and that only men therefore can adequately represent him, and that the Church,  headed and led by Christ and his successors is not a Democracy in which women have a right to participation in leadership and decision-making.

Critics of unilateral application of historical practice as establishing unchangeable norms on the other hand note that equal rights for women in the wider society is only a very recently accepted goal, and that  for example, the first countries in the world to allow women to vote at all were  Finland and New Zealand  only as recently as 1907, and after long struggles for the emancipation of women  in the face of  centuries-old opinion and practice that only men were fit for leadership roles.

The issue of the exclusion of women from leadership roles in the Catholic church has recently been propelled into world headlines following the decision by Cardinal Kevin Farrell  Head of the Vatican´s dicastery (Ministry)  for the Laity, Family and Life to block 3 catholic Women, including the former President of  Ireland  Dr. Mary McAlleese, from speaking at  the Vatican last  8 March, sponsored by the Voices of Faith  Catholic Women’s group which had been hosted by the Vatican on International Women´s Day   the previous 4 years since the election of Pope Francis.

Instead of accepting the ban on the speakers, Voices of Faith accepted an invitation by the Jesuit Order to move the conference some 200 meters outside the walls of the Vatican State to the larger conference Hall of the Headquarters of the world’s largest religious congregation of which Pope Francis is a member and upgrade the address of Dr. McAleese to Keynote Speaker on the Topic  “Why Women Matter”

In her presentation, Dr. McAleese, President of Ireland 1997-2011, lawyer, journalist and currently studying for a Doctorate in Canon Law in Rome, quoted extensively from Church documents demanding a greater role for women.

‘At the Second Vatican Council Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, warned the bishops to stop perpetuating “the secondary place accorded to women in the Church of the 20th century” and to avoid the Church being a “late-comer in their social, political and economic development”. The Council’s decree Apostolicam Actuositatem said it was important that women “participate more widely … in the various sectors of the Church’s apostolate”. The Council’s pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes said the elimination of discrimination based on gender was a priority. Paul VI even commissioned a study on women in Church and Society.

Surely we thought then, the post-Conciliar Church was on the way to full equality for its 600 million female members. And yes-it is true that since the Council new roles and jobs, have opened up to the laity including women but these have simply marginally increased the visibility of women in subordinate roles, including in the Curia, but they have added nothing to their decision-making power or their voice.

Yet in divine justice the very fact of the permanent exclusion of women from priesthood and all its consequential exclusions, should have provoked the Church hierarchy to find innovative and transparent ways of including women’s voices as of right and not in trickles of tokenism by tapping, in the divinely instituted College of Bishops and in the man-made entities such as the College of Cardinals, the Synod of Bishops and episcopal conferences, in all the places where the faith is shaped by decision and dogma and doctrine.

She quoted from the Decrees of the 34th General Congregation of the Jesuits approved in 1995 the very same hall in Rome.

Decree 14 says: We have been part of a civil and ecclesial tradition that has offended against women. And, like many men, we tend to convince ourselves that there is no problem. However unwittingly, we have often contributed to a form of clericalism which has reinforced male domination with an ostensibly divine sanction. By making this declaration we wish to react personally and collectively and do what we can to change this regrettable situation. And she added

“The regrettable situation” arises because the Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny. (meaning: dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women). It has never sought a cure though a cure is freely available. Its name is “equality”

She noted that at the start of his papacy Pope Francis said, “We need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” words a Church scholar described as evidence of Francis’ “magnanimity”. Let us be clear, women’s right to equality in the Church arises organically from divine justice. It should not depend on ad hoc papal benevolence.

Women are walking away from the Catholic Church in droves, for those who are expected to be key influencers in their children’s faith formation have no opportunity to be key influencers in the formation of the Catholic faith. That is no longer acceptable. Just four months ago the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin felt compelled to remark that “the low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today“.

Her challenge to the internal culture of the Church today was brutally stark,” said Archbishop Martin the following day “Some may find it unpleasant or unwelcome,” he said. But “I must accept the challenge with the humility of one who recognizes her alienation.”

And the archbishop said he was pleased to be source material for McAleese.

Probably the most significant negative factor that influences attitudes to the church in today’s Ireland is the place of women in the church,” Martin repeated.

I am not saying that just because of the comments in these days by President McAleese. Indeed, I was happy to note that President McAleese quoted that exact phrase of mine in her speech,” the archbishop said.

In concluding her presentation, Dr. McAleese issued a strong call to Pope Francis: ‘Back in this hall in 1995 the Jesuit Congregation asked God for the grace of conversion from a patriarchal Church to a Church of equals; a Church where women truly matter not on terms designed by men for a patriarchal Church but on terms which make Christ matter. Only such a Church of equals is worthy of Christ. Only such a Church can credibly make Christ matter. The time for that Church is now, Pope Francis. The time for change is now.’

[The video and full text of Dr. McAleese´s address can be seen and read at the Voices of Faith website https://voicesoffaith.org/]

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