Miriam Lord: The bloody cheek of Monsignora Josepha Madigan

Having a Minister for Culture say ‘I never claimed I said Mass’ is not what you expect

Just who does Monsignora Josepha Madigan think she is?

The Pope?

With her faith and her prayers and her off-white dress and her red shoes.

And. And. And her opinions. Opinions, is it now? Opinions?

The bloody cheek of the woman.

Wantonly unaware that the Christian thing she did in her local church last Saturday would be misinterpreted by the media and playfully described as something she very patently didn’t do. As in “said Mass”.

Well done Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for calling her out on this.

As you so courageously noted in your uncompromising press statement on Tuesday: “It is in no way correct to say that the Minister “said Mass”.

Of course, Monsignora Madigan, who is also an uppity government politician, never said she did. The phrase appeared, in inverted commas, in a newspaper.

But that truth would make Josepha right when she is, of course, very wrong.

And doubly well done Archbishop for launching an uncharacteristically personal attack on a woman who stepped into the breach with fellow female volunteers when your own priests cocked up and left a sizeable congregation in the lurch, still seeking some spiritual sustenance in the absence of a Mass.

This is precisely the sort of leadership the Catholic Church needs in these challenging times.

Although a spat between a minister and an archbishop is not the sort of incident – most welcome though it is - one ordinarily expects to land in Kildare Street during a slow Tuesday afternoon in Leinster House.

Nor, at the start of the working day, does one expect by the end of it to have recorded a Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht saying the following: “I never claimed that I said Mass – I would never dare or attempt to do that.”

But then, neither is it the norm to have one of Ireland’s most senior clerics belting out a crozier-bending rebuke to a conscientious and enthusiastic member of his flock; a person who just also happens to hold a seat at cabinet.

The background to the row lies in the vicinity of the altar in the Church of St Thérese in the south Dublin suburb of Mount Merrion. Josepha Madigan is a regular Massgoer there and is also a Minister of the Word, reading the lesson once a month according to rota.

On Saturday evening, because of a administrative mix-up, there was no priest available. Under the circumstances, the Minister and two fellow volunteers led the congregation in brief prayer service. They didn’t encroach on any sacramental duties, didn’t read the gospel or hold a collection.

After the Minister was reported, tongue-in-cheek, as having celebrated Mass, she was invited on radio to discuss what happened. She told interviewer Sean O’Rourke that with the declining number of priests in the country, the time has come for women to become priests. She believes women must have full equality in their church and also feels that male priests should have to option to marry, if they wish.

This didn’t go down well with the Archbishop either. In fact, Monsignora Madigan’s radio comments appeared to annoy him even more that the publicity about her actions on Saturday.

“It is regrettable that that (sic) Minister Madigan used this occasion to push a particular agenda” he wrote in his press release, which read like the work of a man who gets unduly cranky in the heat.

The “particular agenda” is her belief that it’s long past the time that women should have equality in all areas of church life. She made her view very clear on radio and then she doubled down on it during a hastily convened press conference on Tuesday afternoon where she responded to the Archbishop’s comments.

This is the particular agenda – equality for women - which Diarmuid Martin finds so abhorrent.

You see, things were so much easier when women were pushing babies as opposed to agendas. Pushing them out or pushing them in prams as opposed to pushing equality for half the population.

Could there be another reason why mild-manned Dr Martin launched such a broadside at a member of his dwindling number of willing faithful?

Could it be that Monsignora Madigan was the director of Fine Gael’s Repeal the Eighth campaign, which allowed a women an abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy?

We asked her this yesterday at the press conference on the pavement under the shade of the trees opposite her office. She thought a minute, then replied with a smile: “I’ll leave you to figure that out. It’s probably not too far off the mark.”

In his brief, testy missive, the Archbishop declared her decision to air her views about the “core teachings” of the church as a result of one mix-up over Saturday night mass was nothing short of “bizarre”.

Good man, Dermo. That’s women for you. One little incident and they lose the plot.

For her part, the minister said her views have been known to her parish priest and many friends in church, which whom she volunteers, for a long time. She was “surprised” by the personal nature of the Archbishop’s comments.

He also was at pains to point out that there is “no shortage” of priests in the Archdiocese for “Sunday” Mass. Some regular churchgoers beg to differ – Madigan included.

She was also very surprised by Diarmuid Martin’s statement that her radio comments caused “considerable distress” in Mount Merrion and further afield, with many people contacting his office to express “their hurt and upset”.

They must have decided to go straight to the man and complain, because Monsignora Minister Madigan reports she got far, far more complimentary comments than the few derogatory ones.

And she’s no intention of backing down in the face of the Archbishop’s displeasure. He hasn’t contacted her personally yet, although he knew she was in the South Dublin church where he spoke last Sunday (when she went for Mass proper).

“I’m just talking about equality,” said Monsignora Madigan. “If there is a shortage of priests . . . then the church is going to have to address this or there isn’t going to be any church for the next generation.

“The church is about the people so we need women involved, we need them to be priests. Why not? What’s wrong with that? I think we’d all make quite good priests.”

Josepha. Listen to the Archbishop. Priests, you see, take holy orders and the role of women like you is to obey them.

She intends to say as much to the Pope if she meets him in August. Will he find her views - Diarmuid Martin all those people who contacted him did - “deeply disrespectful?”

Is the Pope a Catholic?