Former president Mary McAleese has said she fears the Catholic Church’s hierarchy has “reduced Christ to this rather unattractive politician who is just misogynistic and homophobic and anti-abortion”.
She described Vatican opposition to women priests as “misogynist codology dressed up as theology” and criticised “the patronising platitudes that women have heard from a succession of popes and cardinals”.
Speaking at a press conference in Rome on Wednesday, Ms McAleese also said Pope Francis should visit Newry, Co Down, if he comes to Ireland next August, in the wake of clerical child sex abuse revelations there which led to the recent resignation of the Bishop of Dromore.
Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey resigned last week amid controversy over his decision to concelebrate a Mass with abuser Fr Malachy Finnegan in 2000 and to say the priest’s funeral Mass in 2002. Bishop McAreavey first became aware that Fr Finnegan, the former president of St Colman’s College Newry, was an abuser in 1994.
Ms McAleese was speaking at a Voices of Faith press conference to introduce some speakers who will take part in a Why Women Matter conference in the city on Thursday at which Ms McAleese will be opening speaker.
The conference, marking International Women’s Day, had taken place at the Vatican over the past four years but moved venue this year when Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, barred Ms McAleese from taking part.
She described the church’s leadership as “largely mediocre” and said women were “not impressed by your stewardship”.
Ms McAleese said her fear was that the church’s “hierarchy has reduced Christ to this rather unattractive politician who is just misogynistic and homophobic and anti-abortion. I think that is to do a remarkable disservice to Christ, a huge disservice to the church.”
Criticising “the patronising platitudes that women have heard from a succession of popes and cardinals”, she said, “we are the leaven in the bread. If there is no leaven in the dough, bread does not rise and that is what’s happening in the western world. The cake of the church is flattening, because women are walking away in droves.”
Healing and love
The Catholic Church was “at a very important crossroads”, she said. “Either it will become a large and largely irrelevant cult or sect, or it will do what Christ intended, flood the world with the capacity for healing and for love,” she said.
It was a choice which would “be made, ironically, by our hierarchy” because of “an old imperial system of clerical elitist governance” conferred on them.
As regards Pope Francis, she said, “The hopes that I had for him and about him and about the church that he might help us to create, dwindled into disappointment. So, five years on, I’m disappointed in Francis. I keep living in hope.”
On women priests, she said, “I’ve read everything written on the subject, all the stuff that was recommended to me by Cardinal Desmond Connell when I wrote and said to him ‘tell me all the arguments in favour of excluding women’ and when I read them they were so stupid I realised very quickly that it was codology dressed up as theology.”
She said she decided then, “I cannot be bothered arguing. Sooner or later the dead weight of its own stupidity will disintegrate this argument.”
But she had a question for Pope Francis. “Since women are excluded in perpetuity from priesthood and since all decision-making, all policymaking, all discernment that forms the Catholic faith is filtered through priesthood, tell me how do you intend then to effectively include, in justice and equality, the voices of the 600 women in the church who can never be priests?”
On the Dromore controversy, Ms McAleese said there was a “very, very strong onus” on Pope Francis to visit Newry, as “he would be the first pope to come after the Ryan report, the Murphy report and in particular the more recent events in the diocese of Dromore where, 20 years after the clerical guidelines were introduced that told us how wonderful church protection was going to be, we faced the resignation of a bishop. Why? Because he presides at the funeral of one of the worst serial physical and sexual sadists in the history of the church.”
Fr Finnegan had been “president of one of the most prestigious Catholic boys schools in Northern Ireland and . . . seems to have been able to continue his appalling abuse of children untrammelled”, she said.
There was “all sorts of talk about places where he [the pope]” should go when he visits Ireland. “But, in terms of the pastoral needs in Ireland, he needs to go to Newry,” she said.