Mary McAleese: a thorn in the church’s side?
In describing Pope Francis’s plans for a synod on the family as ‘bonkers’, Mary McAleese was being a consistent advocate of a more active, engaged Catholic Church
Praying for change: Mary McAleese at Mass with her husband, Martin, in 2008. Photograph: Eric Luke
Praying for change: McAleese with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2007. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
Praying for change: McAleese with Cardinals Desmond Connell, Cahal Daly, Seán Brady and Keith O’Brien at the Irish College in Rome, in 2007. Photographs: Dara Mac Dónaill
Some people have taken offence on behalf of Pope Francis because Mary McAleese, the former president, threw the word “bonkers” in his direction. One figure in the Catholic Church said it was unbecoming of a former head of state to speak this way. A letter writer to this paper described her remarks as terribly unfair.
Speaking at University College Dublin last Monday, to mark her receipt of the university’s Ulysses medal, McAleese criticised the pope’s plan to ask a synod of bishops next October to advise him about church teaching on the family.
There was “something profoundly wrong and skewed” about asking “male celibates” to review the church’s teaching on family life, she said. “The very idea of 150 people who have decided they are not going to have any children, not going to have families, not going to be fathers and not going to be spouses – so they have no adult experience of family life as the rest of us know it – but they are going to advise the pope on family life, it is completely bonkers.”
Last year the Vatican circulated a questionnaire to Catholics worldwide seeking feedback on pastoral issues of marriage and family. In her interview last Monday McAleese said: “I wrote back and said I’ve got a much simpler questionnaire, and it’s only got one question, and here it is: ‘How many of the men who will gather to advise you as pope on the family have ever changed a baby’s nappy?’ I regard that as a very, very serious question.”
It’s doubtful whether the plain-speaking Pope Francis would take offence at any of this. He may disagree with the substance of what McAleese said, but its manner of expression would hardly faze him. After all, this is the pope who advised his clergy to get down and dirty among the people so they smell of them and who has spoken about the narcissism of popes and theologians.
As for McAleese, she is just being consistent.
Early ambitionsWhen she was a young woman, the first person she spoke to about her ambition to become a lawyer was a priest and family friend. She has said that “his instant response was to tell me to forget about it, because I suffered from two disabilities which were, in his view, completely unlikely to be overcome. One was that I was a woman, and the other was that I had no connections in the law.”
She continued: “It was said with the kind of dismissive authority which is intended to silence protest or debate. The owner of superior knowledge, of real certitude, had spoken, and that was that.
“The same priest, incidentally, kept a double-entry score book of the indignities heaped upon Catholics by the Protestant government at Stormont, many of which, ironically, involved keeping Catholics out of jobs for no reason other than the fact that they were Catholics.