Some church teachings have ‘as much validity as Danny Healy Rae’s views on climate change’

Catholic Church to become irrelevant unless it changes stance on women, sexuality , says priest

Fr Kevin Hegarty says ‘Humanae Vitae’ probably undermined the church’s authority in the long run. Photograph: iStock

Fr Kevin Hegarty says ‘Humanae Vitae’ probably undermined the church’s authority in the long run. Photograph: iStock

 

The Catholic Church will continue to decline into irrelevance unless it changes its positions on female ordination, contraception and sexuality, a priest has told the MacGill Summer School.

Fr Kevin Hegarty, a co-pastor in Belmullet, Co Mayo, said for many the church’s teachings on contraception and homosexuality have “as much validity as Danny Healy Rae’s views on climate change.”

The priest has long been an outspoken critic of church policy. Last Easter he suggested Catholics and fellow clergy should not take part in the Holy Thursday Mass because “it is a celebration of the male-only priesthood.”

Speaking on the subject of “The Catholic Church in Ireland – Will it survive? Should it matter?”, Fr Hegarty said the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, which 50 years ago cemented the Vatican’s position against contraception, probably undermined the church’s authority in the long run.

“People began to lose confidence in an institution whose teaching on this topic was so out of sync with their lived experience,” he said.

There is just one priest under the age of 40 in all of the 22 parishes in his diocese of Killala, Fr Hegarty said. Two are under 50 and five are under 60. Only two priests have been ordained there in the last 17 years and there hasn’t been a student for the priesthood in the diocese since 2013, he said.

“Until the church confronts issues like hierarchical structure, celibacy, female ordination and its theology on sexuality, it will continue to decline into irrelevance.

“What is needed, I believe, is a new council of the church to map out a paradigm for the future.”

‘Worst kind of institution’

Fr Hegarty said he agreed with the analysis that the church is “the worst kind of institution, rigid in social structure; preoccupied by power; ruthless in suppressing internal dissent. . .”

The church is currently divided between conservatives who want to return to the past and liberals “who hope for reform,” he said. This hope currently rests “on the frail shoulders of Pope Francis” who faces strong opposition from elements of the Curia.

“Reforming the Curia, it has been said, is like trying to give a haircut to a drowsy lion,” Fr Hegarty said.

Theologian and lecturer in bioethics at the Royal College of Surgeons Gina Menzies, told the panel “the institutional church is flying on one wing” by discounting the involvement and talents of women.

Referring to the recent controversy where the Vatican refused to host a conference featuring former president Mary McAleese following her criticism of church policy, Ms Menzies said the church can no longer rely on “safe women” who keep quiet.

“Women need to be treated on the basis of their humanity not their womanhood. This would be the Christian way to proceed.”

She said church officials refuse to discuss the ordination of women and argue it will do nothing to improve church attendance as it has not increased membership in the Protestant churches.

“This is not a good reason to avoid the issue. The ordination of women has a twofold significance. There are some women who speak of their call to serve in priesthood. The other reason is that all decisions taken in the Catholic Church are taken by ordained men.”