Former Irish president Mary McAleese has defended herself after theologians accused her of misquoting Pope John Paul II to suggest he justified rape.

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In a Thursday letter to the editor of the Irish Times, McAleese responded to claims that she offered in a talk in Dublin last weekend a “shoddy scholarly treatment” of the late pope’s writings.

McAleese cited a direct quote from John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility to the effect 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”.

The former Irish president echoed Irish moral theologian Fr Seán Fagan’s assessment of the passage of to suggest that John Paul II’s description “sounds like rape”.

But theologians and others accused her of taking the late pope’s writings out of context.


Theologians accuse former Irish president of misquoting John Paul II on Church “rape” of women

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In her letter to the editor, McAleese suggested her detractors “did not check the context” in which she used the text from John Paul II.

“It was explicitly stated by me that I was not talking about the sex act at all but by analogy using the passage to describe the position and role of women in the church generally, with men seen as dominant initiators and women as passive receivers. A simple and factually correct statement”, she insisted.

McAleese doubled down on her and theologian Fagan’s interpretation of the passage “as a description of rape”.

She added that there was “an obvious, inexorable and transferable logic” to using the passage to denounce the marginalisation of women in the Church.

Why it matters

RTÉ reported that, along with her letter to the editor, McAleese also wrote emails explaining herself both to three senior Catholics and also to the publisher of the Irish Catholic newspaper, which criticised her talk.

In her email to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo; the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin; and the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin, McAleese said the text of her talk was still “available verbatim” on the website of the Voices of Faith organisation, which convened the question-and-answer session at which she spoke.

“You will see I made it clear I was using the extract as an analogy and was not using it as a comment on Pope John Paul’s view on sexual intercourse”, McAleese explained to the bishops.

“When my declaimers argue the Pope argued for full equality in sex I am inclined to make the obvious point then why not follow that logic and provide for their full equality in the Church in general”, she concluded.

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