Una Mullally: Vatican’s Mary McAleese ban is the act of a ‘snowflake’

The bizarre row undercuts Catholic claims to victimhood and of a lack of free speech

The spiral staircase at the Vatican. ‘The Vatican is undercutting all of those poor commentators who were hoping to gain some social currency in pretending to be marginalised.’

The spiral staircase at the Vatican. ‘The Vatican is undercutting all of those poor commentators who were hoping to gain some social currency in pretending to be marginalised.’

 

There’s a trend these days for random people to come to the conclusion that they are being oppressed just because they weren’t given the platform, stage, or conch that they think they deserve.

In some instances (although rare), an invite that isn’t copper-fastened ends up being revoked when some university society somewhere realises that being divisive or spreading hate isn’t the most fun thing ever, and that all points of view should be heard, including some points of view that tell other points of view to shut up. 

Woe betide any group of people who end up getting caught up in booking a speaker in a college – and people being mad at that speaker’s point of view. Because whichever way you slice it, you will become a metaphor. And your metaphor will be free speech, the right to offend, the right to be offended, the right to protest, and so on. 

If there’s a hint of debate being shut down, generally what happens is a commentator – who thinks they’ve hit upon some edgy and original tip – rushes to a keyboard to bestow the masses with their genius hot take.

“Such snowflakes!” “Why don’t these millennials toughen up?!” “In my day, we all challenged our opinion so much that we created diverse and open societies where civil debate reigned and information took flight on the wings of wisdom, gifting us all with the utopia we have built for you ungrateful brunch-scoffing-family-home-lodging-safe-space wretches!” Or something like that. 

Annoyed to the point of rallying

All of this metaphorical debate inevitably ends up in a Stewart Lee-type sketch: “These days if you say you’re English you’ll be thrown in jail.”

Previously, it was those whose views could be deemed transgressive that might’ve faced difficulties in being aired. Nowadays it’s more likely to be a viewpoint that was previously omnipresent and is now being challenged.

At the top of the ire-triangle of entities that get annoyed to the point of rallying are those who despise immigration and who think that their Christian values are under threat. In Ireland this means pretending that, as a Catholic, one is somehow oppressed. I know it’s a bizarre thing to construct, but there it is anyway. 

But soft, what discordant discourse through yonder stained-glass window breaks? It is the Vatican, undercutting all of those poor commentators who were hoping to gain some social currency in pretending to be marginalised.

It’s difficult to give out about echo chambers when one’s entire belief system is built on doctrine and dogma

A group called Voice of Faith booked Mary McAleese and a Ugandan LGBT advocate for a conference scheduled for March 8th, International Women’s Day. Then Cardinal Kevin Farrell barred McAleese, leading to the event having to take part outside the Vatican. She was effectively banned from speaking in the Vatican.

Just to recap, McAleese is not about to launch into an extreme point of view on the Catholic Church. The Women’s Ordination Worldwide organisation said: “Pope Francis has called repeatedly for fearless dialogue in the church. Yet, within the Vatican bureaucracy silencing and policing of women’s voices continues to be the status quo.”

What is it about people’s deeply held beliefs that when held up to a certain light they appear so vulnerable, so undeserving of scrutiny, such humouring?

One thing this ridiculous incident does offer is a point of reflection for those who crow about free speech, and no-platforming, and people in third-level institutions repeatedly obsessing over who gets to say what and where. “Free speech” has in itself become a euphemism, a point of privilege that should remain hierarchical and elite.  

Victimhood stance

To go further, many oppressive forces co-opt a victimhood stance in order to double down on their double-think; that control equals helplessness, that being an oppressor equals oppression, that dominance equals vulnerability. 

It’s quite difficult to give out about echo chambers when one’s entire belief system is built on doctrine and dogma. It’s hard to crow about “free speech” as a Catholic when the Catholic Church is pulling stunts such as this.

“I find it tragic,” one of the organisers said on RTÉ Radio 1, “I think especially given Pope Francis’s call for dialogue. I think many in the Catholic Church including cardinals and bishops, many of them are taking it very seriously.

“They’re having conversations and dialogue that was unheard of prior to Pope Francis coming on board . . . Of course it’s disappointing, but we’ve had quite a few millennia of disappointments, women’s voices have been sidelined and so forth.”

When it comes to rigorous debate, one wonders what is happening in those sensitive bastions of liberal extremism, such as Trinity College. Actually the day the Catholic Church was scratching names off its party list, students in Trinity were hosting a talk from Nigel Farage. How’s that for open-minded?

So the next time someone who you think gets more than enough time to talk about whatever they want, yet remains convinced they are being silenced, perhaps look at who’s doing the silencing.

For all its perverse desire for the perceived protections of the oppressed, remember that free speech, even when it’s from as uncontroversial a source as Mary McAleese, is under threat, once a system decides to once again simultaneously close ranks while giving out that people aren’t open to it.

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