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Vatican

Mary McAleese calls on Catholic Church to 'reform out-dated teachings' and ensure equality

‘We believe that the Catholic Church, which should be and could be an exemplar of equality and respect for human rights, is not,’ said McAleese.

FORMER PRESIDENT OF Ireland Mary McAleese has called on the Catholic Church to create a “discipleship of equals” and to “reform” its “out-dated teaching and laws”.

McAleese was speaking in Rome this evening at an event organised by Spirit Unbounded, a global network of Catholic reform groups that work to include marginalised groups in the Church.

The Vatican opened a historic Synod on 4 October and the first phase of this will run until 29 October.

The word “synod” means “assembly” and Pope Francis describes the current Synod as “journeying together” and listening to one another to discern the best path forward for the Church.

Pope Francis initiated the Synod because he said he wanted to hear from the entire Church and to ask what the Church can do to make parishes better.

For the first time, women and laypeople will have a vote in the Synod.

F7vskmEWkAAbWSp Pope Francis participating in the current Synod in the Vatican. The Vatican The Vatican

Spirit Unbounded is running an alternative Synod in Rome and McAleese delivered a speech at one of their events this evening.

In her speech, McAleese said the Vatican’s Synod was “prompted by the rapidly escalating disillusionment of the faithful, for many reasons including the persistence of stark internal inequality and lack of respect for the human rights of Church members within the Church”.

The topics to be addressed in the Vatican’s Synod include the place of LGBT+ people within the Church, whether women should be ordained, and whether married men can serve as priests in regions with insufficient clergy, among others.

Of the 365 voting members of the Synod, 56 will be women, and McAleese described this figure as a “token number”.

“Ironically the inclusion of a small cohort of women merely highlights the extent of the continuing gender imbalance at the core of Church governance,” said McAleese.

She also expressed hope that the Synod will create a “refreshed landscape where the vanities of an imperial hierarchical history are washed away”.

McAleese also welcomed an apparent reversal of a position adopted by Pope Francis in 2021, which upheld a ban on blessing same-sex unions.

Priests in Belgium and Germany have been blessing same-sex unions for several years without any apparent censor from the Vatican.

In a letter published last week, Pope Francis said “pastoral charity” requires patience and understanding and that priests cannot become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude”.

“For this reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of benediction, requested by one or more persons, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage,” he wrote.

“Because when a benediction is requested, it is expressing a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a father who can help us to live better.”

McAleese also questioned the ban on women being ordained as priests, something which is up for discussion at the Synod.

Pope Francis previously remarked that the issue “cannot be publicly contradicted but it can be studied”.

“We have studied it deeply and as a result are here to publicly contradict what our studies tell us is sexist codology dressed up as what is threadbare theology,” McAleese said this evening.

The Church points to Jesus’ appointment of 12 male apostles as its reasoning for only ordaining men as priests.

But McAleese pointed to Matthew’s Gospel, which contains the verse: “Go make disciples of all nations. Teach them what I have commanded you.”

McAleese described this verse as “a clear and unqualified call to a discipleship of equals”.

“A discipleship of all genders, all peoples, powered by a divine grace,” she added.

She further stated that the “Church is plummeting erratically on one wing when it could be soaring steadily on two”. 

“We believe that the Catholic Church, which should be and could be an exemplar of equality and respect for human rights, is not,” said McAleese.

“Instead, the biggest Christian Church in the world, the biggest NGO in the world, the only faith system to have representative status at the United Nations, a key influencer of laws, is languishing in a deepening credibility crisis precisely because it has failed to reform an out-dated internal structure of governance, teachings and laws in which inequality is embedded.”

McAleese added that the “active dismantling” of “dysfunctional” Church teaching and governance by Catholics in the West is forcing a Church that “previously only talked down to us” to “listen to us”.

The former president also has a doctorate in Catholic canon law, which is a system of laws that govern the Church. 

In her speech, she said the canon law places Catholics in a “fundamental relationship of obedience, not to God, but to the all too human and flawed” hierarchy of the Church.

- Diarmuid Pepper will be reporting on the Synod from Rome next week and you can follow on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @Diarmuid_9

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