Incensed by the Church's attitude to women


THE attack on the President, Mrs Robinson, by Father David O'Hanlon following her visit to the Vatican is a manifestation of all that is wrong in the Roman Catholic Church.

For notwithstanding his attempt to portray her meeting with the Pope as a breach of protocol on to counts which he itemises, his article reeks of an attitude towards women which is ingrained in the structures of the institutional church.

The fear of women, particularly intelligent women such as the President, is so strong that priests like Father O'Hanlon resort to the age-old tactic of a verbal battering to put her, and through her, all women, in our place - at least in the place they think we should be.

Does Father O'Hanlon think he expresses a popularly held view concerning the President's encounter with the Pope?

Has he no idea that the laity in Ireland has seen through clericalism and its claim to authority during the past few years, as one scandal after another has unfolded?

The most worrying and shocking aspect of institutional church life in recent years is the willingness of church authorities to foster the distrust of centuries by ordaining young men with a clerical, authoritarian, anti-women mentality so as to postpone facing the signs of the times.

In a recent article in the Tablet, Prof Mary McAleese courageously articulated one aspect of the Catholic fear and distrust of women which is unacknowledged by the institutional church.

She writes: "The dynamics of priesthood have altered radically along fault lines some of which have yet to be openly acknowledged and explored. Women have observed the enormous drain of heterosexual males from the priesthood and the growing phenomenon of gay priests.

"They are quietly asking what is happening at the core of the call to priesthood that attracts homosexuals in much greater numbers than their population distribution would explain. These questions are not being raised in any homophobic way but are among the raft of questions bubbling to the surface."

How did the Catholic Church come to this? How could any Christian church come to this?

Jesus Christ is such an inspiration: he is the great challenger - to self, to community, to institutions, to society and to the world. He chose to identify himself, not with the ruling priestly caste, but with the marginalised: with sinners, with the poor, with women, with social outcasts, and just about everybody unacceptable to the social, religious and political authorities of the time.

There are those within the institutional church who think Jesus Christ was the first Roman Catholic. In fact, he was a Galilean Jew. Jesus never went to Mass or confession: neither did he insist on his disciples wearing black suits with Roman collars.

He was often rebuked by the religious authorities of his time for breaking with tradition. His answer is the great solace to those of us who question the institutional church's current obsession with tradition: "Why do you break away from the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

My questions to the anti-women elements within the Catholic Church are the following: Can you not see that what is important is the spirit of the Gospel and not the tenets of Canon Law or the articles of Vatican protocol?

Can you not see what matters is that you live "in love" and not "in authority"? Can you not see that Jesus's words "As you do to the least of these of my little ones, you do to me" are the stepping-stones in the here and now, the truth and the life?

I can see them lining up already, the obedient-to-the-letter Catholics who are poised to be offended at what I have written, who are poised with their answer that the church is not for a La carte Catholics; that you take the whole package or ship out.

TO THAT I can only wearily answer: though you have worn my faith, and that of other women, threadbare with your exclusive-club mentality, and your self-righteousness, we cannot leave - because there is no way out.

Once a Catholic, always a Catholic and all that. If there were a way out, many women would gladly take it, because we are so browned off with the institutional preoccupation with the letter of Canon Law at the expense of the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that many do want out.

And despite everything, I am hopeful that the spirit of Christ will prevail and herald a new dawn. This hope is fuelled by the witness of courageous priests such as Austin Hannery, David Smith, Eltin Griffin, Michael Hurley, Tom Stack and Bishop John Kirby, who have publicly dissociated themselves from the mentality and sentiments expressed by Father O'Hanlon.

With men like these, there is some hope that the spirit of the gospel will flourish.

Dr Noreen O'Carroll is an associate lecturer in philosophy at Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy Dublin