The Catholic Church is at a critical crossroads in its history "and if it fails to choose the right path it risks an enduring permafrost", former president Mary McAleese has said.
“Many of us are in growing despair of our Church’s inability to turn a critical spotlight on itself while shining a critical spotlight on the world at large,” she said, and referred to “its controlling clericalism, its cavalier misogyny, its evil homophobia, its institutional and clerical child sexual and physical abuse,its episcopal cover-ups that protected criminals and ignored victims, its lack of financial transparency and accountability”.
There was also “its relentless external advocacy of the right to life of the unborn while hypocritically ignoring the fact that the Church, whose primary mission is salvation, itself teaches that it cannot guarantee a right to eternal life for the 80 million babies annually who die unbaptised through natural miscarriage, abortion and still-birth”.
Added to which was “the social and financial waste caused by the enormous stockpiled portfolio of unsustainable, underused and unused property owned by the Church, the biggest non-governmental owner of private property in the world”, she said.
Lay Catholics “would like to freely discuss these things and contribute to their resolution in an official standing inclusive forum within the Church for the good of the Church. No such forum exists,” she said.
Pope Francis’ notion of such a forum or synod “which once seemed to have captured the zeitgeist favouring all-inclusive Church debating structure now seems bent on preventing it at worst, micro-managing it into irrelevance at best”.
In the keynote address on Friday to the Catholic lay-led Root and Branch Synod in Bristol, Ms McAleese described as a "shocking reality" that lay participation in the Church had been "consistently frozen out and episcopal power even more strongly consolidated during the 20th and 21st centuries, the very centuries that have seen the emergence of a massified educated laity and which were supposed to see a wide conciliar embrace of the lay charisms".
Despite the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Church continued to teach “that the magisterium [Church teaching authority] has the unchallengeable right to restrict your rights and mine as Church members. It says it can legitimately do so because of personal promises we made at Baptism which imposed on us compulsory life-long obligations of Church membership.”
The time has come “to make the case that fictitious baptismal promises made by non-sentient babies, as is the case for 84 per cent of Church members baptised as infants, and even actual promises made by adult catechumens can no longer be relied on to justify depriving Church members of their inalienable human rights,” she said.
The man-made consequences of baptism found in canon law were “bolted on” to the sacrament “to compel enrolment as life members of the Catholic Church and to impose a once-and-for-all acceptance of the extensive obligations of membership, which the vast majority of us lack the capacity to evaluate until it is too late,” she said.