MARY MCALEESE HAS challenged Pope Francis to “develop a credible strategy for the inclusion of women as equals throughout the [Catholic] Church’s root and branch infrastructure”.
The former Irish President made her comments in a speech at a conference in Rome about women’s roles in the Church.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the conference, Dr McAleese called the Church an “empire of misogyny”.
In her keynote speech, McAleese said Pope Francis needs to develop a strategy “with targets, pathways and outcomes regularly and independently audited” .
“Failure to include women as equals has deprived the Church of fresh and innovative discernment; it has consigned it to recycled thinking among a hermetically sealed cosy male clerical elite flattered and rarely challenged by those tapped for jobs in secret and closed processes.
It has kept Christ out and bigotry in.
“It has left the Church flapping about awkwardly on one wing when God gave it two. We are entitled to hold our Church leaders to account for this and other egregious abuses of institutional power and we will insist on our right to do so no matter how many official doors are closed to us.”
McAleese was speaking at the Why Women Matter conference, which was organised by Voices of Faith to mark International Women’s Day. The event made headlines last month after it emerged that the Vatican barred McAleese and another speaker from taking part in the event, a move put down to their stance on LGBT+ issues.
The conference was due to take place in the Holy See, but organisers moved the location so the barred speakers could take part.
‘Strawberries on the cake’
Noting how Pope Francis previously described female theologians as the “strawberries on the cake”, McAleese said in her speech: “He was wrong. Women are the leaven in the cake. They are the primary handers on of the faith to their children. In the western world the Church’s cake is not rising, the baton of faith is dropping.
Women are walking away from the Catholic Church in droves, for those who are expected to be key influencers in their children’s faith formation have no opportunity to be key influencers in the formation of the Catholic faith. That is no longer acceptable.
McAleese referred to the fact that Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin recently felt compelled to remark that “the low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today”.
She noted that Pope Francis has previously said “women are more important than men because the Church is a woman”, asking him: “Holy Father, why not ask women if they feel more important than men?
“I suspect many will answer that they experience the Church as a male bastion of patronising platitudes to which Pope Francis has added his quota.”
‘Mystery of women’
Referring to former Pope John Paul II writing about the “‘mystery of women”, McAleese said: “Talk to us as equals and we will not be a mystery.”
“Francis has said a “deeper theology of women” is needed. God knows it would be hard to find a more shallow theology of women than the misogyny dressed up as theology which the magisterium currently hides behind,” she stated.
In 1976, the Vatican issued a document saying the Church “does not consider herself authorised to admit women to priestly ordination”.
McAleese said this has “locked women out of any significant role in the Church’s leadership, doctrinal development and authority structure since these have historically been reserved to or filtered through ordained men”.
Just imagine this normative scenario – Pope Francis calls a synod on the role of women in the church and 350 male celibates advise the Pope on what women really want. That is how ludicrous our Church has become.
“How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership, legal and doctrinal discernment and decision-making?”
McAleese said “a cure” for the exclusion of women from the Church is “freely available”: equality. She added that, for things to change, women must be listened to but “are left to talk among ourselves”.
“No Church leader bothers to turn up, not just because we do not matter to them but because their priestly formation prepares them to resist treating us as true equals.”
McAleese said only “a Church of equals is worthy of Christ”, adding: “The time for that Church is now, Pope Francis. The time for change is now.”