A former Irish president turned theologian has denounced that women are “deliberately made invisible” in the Church.

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“Structurally the architecture of the Church is designed to create and maintain the invisibility and powerlessness of women”, Mary McAleese denounced.

She added that the ban on women’s ordination is “codology dressed up as theology”.

McAleese was speaking alongside US theologian, Benedictine nun and women’s ordination campaigner Sister Joan Chittister at a conference Saturday in Trinity College Dublin on the theme: “The Women The Vatican Couldn’t Silence”.

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McAleese, who was the President of Ireland between 1997 and 2011, blasted Pope John Paul II for once writing, according to her, that “for the purpose of the sexual act it is enough for [the woman] to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it can even take place without her volition while she is in a state where she has no awareness at all of what is happening – for instance when she is asleep or unconscious”.

Likening that attitude to an approval of rape, McAleese lamented that “that is how we are treated in the Church”.

The former president, who has a doctorate of canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, also denounced the “lie at the heart of priesthood today, a fundamental lie”, which she said consisted of a deep-seated hypocrisy.

A number of the men attracted to the priesthood seem to be “deeply problematic in their own sexuality”, observed McAleese, who is now Professor of Children, Religion and Law at the University of Glasgow.

“Why? Because the Church demands of them that, if they are not heterosexual, that they pretend to be. That has caused huge problems”.

Living in Rome for most of the past six years, McAleese said, “I became very, very much aware of the dysfunction at the heart of seminary life and the dysfunction at the heart of much of the priesthood”.

“The number of fake hetero, misogynistic, homophobic” seminarians and priests she met frightened her, she said, “because the homophobia of people who are gay is a lie”.

“It’s a vicious lie, but they live it and in the living of it they make others, apart from making themselves, miserable”.

The capacity of homophobic churchmen “for dispersing misery, trust me, is immense. That worries me greatly”, McAleese denounced.

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Why it matters

The former president and now canon law expert, who is due to publish in November her doctoral thesis on “Children’s Rights and Obligations in Canon Law”, insisted that laity need to “strip away the deference” to priests, “the false deference, and insist on being listened to on equal terms”.

McAleese said a big problem in the Church today is the vicious circle of obedience that leads to cover-up culture.

“The vast majority of bishops worldwide are cowardly”, she decried.

Bishops “are cowed, in their turn, [by] the deference they offer to their superior and the overreach of obedience to the magisterium”.

Along with real equality for laypeople, McAleese said the Church must allow women deacons in order to break the “really embedded misogyny that goes very, very deep” in Catholicism.

That call, made this week also by the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, was seconded by Sister Joan Chittister, who deplored the fact that “silence, invisibility is the only role a woman has in the Catholic Church”.

“We make very good window dressing, but in terms of being able to contribute as a baptised person to the development of the Church, we are not there.

“Some day you have to wake up and say what you see, and what I see is that the Catholic Church, for women, is a totally owned subsidiary of pious males.

“We really are not full members of the Church. We are the outside edge”, the nun and theologian lamented.


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