Religion, gender and society


Sir, – It would be a very unwise Catholic Church that would not listen carefully to the general thrust of what Mary McAleese and other women are courageously saying to it (the church) in recent days.

They may well be prophetic. Prophets are rarely popular in their own time: they tell us bluntly what we don’t like to hear. In so doing, they serve us well. – Yours, etc,


Capuchin Friary,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – The theologian Mary Daly once observed that “if God is male then male is God”. This applies to all faiths. We’re all subconsciously educated by language, and given that this particular scenario is unlikely to change, organised religion, always misogynistic, will ever remain so. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – As a committed, practising Roman Catholic I have looked on helplessly as my church has fallen into decline and disrepute for reasons of which we are well aware, notably the sexual abuse of innocent children and the notorious cover-up by our leaders, the hierarchy. The church has lost membership and moral authority at a time when materialism and secularism were never more rampant.

I am angry and frustrated that the leaders who could have done something have done nothing – they have not listened to lay people who for decades now have recommended change on two main issues – the role of women and clerical celibacy. They have taken possession of our church, the church which is “the people of God”, and they have appropriated it to themselves as their church.

The church group for whom I feel most are the thousands of priests who with astonishing idealism in their youth took on and adhered to vows of celibacy and obedience and who, in many cases, have endured lives of isolation and loneliness. They have been front-line warriors who faced the brunt of criticism and opprobrium that was in reality aimed at their betters who were well shielded behind high walls. The phrase “lions led by donkeys” is apt.

Whatever about the theological niceties or scriptural and traditional arguments for excluding women from ordination, there can be no such arguments in favour of the retention of compulsory celibacy as a condition for the ordination of males. With no scriptural basis it is a church requirement that has been imposed only since 1139, less than half the life of the church.

We know that this rule has much to do with church wealth but history teaches us that the celibacy rule did not save the church from the scandalous excesses of the Borgias and the Medicis in later centuries. Nor has it saved the church from the excessive sexual abuses of our own times. It is highly likely, on the other hand, that had we had a married clergy or women priests neither the abuse nor the cover-up would have taken root as they did.

Mary McAleese is a prophetic figure who is challenging the church authorities as Christ himself did about 2,000 years ago or, indeed, as a German monk did just over 500 years ago.

They did not listen then. They’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will. – Yours, etc,



Co Louth.