The "game is almost up" for the all-male Catholic Church, former president Mary McAleese has said.
She said the church’s “clericalised citadel is increasingly of zero interest to many Christian women who grow up in the Catholic tradition”.
“The church prizes the clerical male above all others in the church. Above women, above truth and disgracefully above clerically abused children. The game is almost up,” she said.
Mrs McAleese was speaking after an announcement by theologian Mary T Malone (80) that she is leaving the "men's church" to become "a member of women's Christianity, a loose association of women's groups who celebrate their Christian faith outside the Catholic Church".
A nun for 17 years before she married her late husband, Ms Malone retired back to Ireland in 1997 after teaching theology for almost 40 years in Canada.
Living in Wexford, she is the author of a trilogy on Women and Christianity (2000, 2001, 2003); Praying with the Women Mystics (2006); and The Elephant in the Church: A Woman's Tract for Our Times (2014).
A revised edition of the latter book was republished in Dublin last Friday to mark International Women’s Day.
Mrs McAleese made her comments in a foreword to the revised edition of the book. She said Ms Malone's departure "sends a stark message" to the Catholic Church.
“If someone of the calibre of Mary T Malone - historian, theologian, nun, Catholic and committed Christian is walking away, then it should be a warning to the Catholic Church’s all male magisterium that their clericalised citadel is increasingly of zero interest to many Christian women who grow up in the Catholic tradition. Why? Because the game is up.”
Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Malone said she continues to pray three times a day "but I am out of the Catholic church". She said women members have to start "doing things" to bring about change.
She has noted how “from 55 AD to 1970 AD the church was completely male”. Mark’s gospel recorded that the men abandoned Jesus at the end, she said.
“They disappeared. And there were some women there, standing at a distance. They had been there all the time. There were no men supporting Jesus at the crucifixion. The women were at the resurrection. The women founded Christianity! How did the men get back?”
She said it was in 55 AD that St Paul wrote ‘Let the women be silent in Churches’ as the view was that women’s prayers, thoughts and theology did not count.
Pope Paul Vl asked bible scholars to examine Paul's 'women be silent' statement and advise whether this was pastoral in a particular place or whether it was a forever truth. The scholars concluded that it was a pastoral statement, Ms Malone said.