Eilis O'Hanlon: Why the church should listen to talk of women saying Mass
The hierarchy risks self-destruction with its heavy-handed response to Fr Tony Flannery
Published 27/01/2013 | 05:00
Since it was first published, Why Men Don't Listen And Women Can't Read Maps has arguably saved more marriages than Relationships Ireland.
The format has been flogged to death at this stage, with more sequels than Police Academy, but its central thesis – that men and women are just different and we should learn to live with it – remains as relevant now as ever.
What's odd is that, considering how awful they are at responding to other people's emotional needs, men were the ones who got to be priests.
Women are much better at empathising, listening, communicating. They really should've been doing the job all along. The Pope, in turn, would surely contend that, had Christ wanted women priests, then he would have invited them to sit around the table at the Last Supper rather than doing the waitressing – and it is for challenging this view of the priesthood that Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery has now been threatened with excommunication.
The precise sequence of events remains muddled, despite a slew of media interviews; the details are still being haggled over by supporters and detractors alike. Some of the headlines about priests being silenced by a latter-day version of the Spanish Inquisition were mischievous, to say the least.
But it does now seem incontestable that, having originally irked the church by saying that Jesus did not "ordain" the Apostles as such, the priesthood merely developing over time in response to historical circumstances, he has now been asked not only to state that Christ laid down a particular hierarchical template for the church, but that it can never include women. Something he can't do, because he doesn't believe it. The question then is whether the church's response to that challenge is a wise or appropriate one.
Conservative Catholics argue that Fr Flannery joined a club and should either abide by its rules or get out.
It's a similar argument to the one adopted by France last week when David Cameron announced plans to hold an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU unless Europe changes its ways. You can't join a football club and then demand that it play rugby, was how Paris put it. But Euro sceptics would say that's exactly the point. Britain did join a football club (in the form of a common market) and it was the EU which started playing rugby (by transforming itself into a federal superstate). Likewise, as Tony Flannery pointed out to Pat Kenny on Friday, he joined the church in the era of the Second Vatican Council, when there was much more open discussion of such issues. It was the Catholic Church which switched to theological rugby, not him.
Even if he does have a duty of obedience to his superiors, Fr Flannery's superiors still have a choice how to respond to his challenge, and there's little doubt that they're following a self-destructive path by reacting so heavy-handedly.
Priests have raped children and not been excommunicated. Bishops have covered up the rape of children and been promoted. It's still not a heresy to believe that unbaptised children may burn in Hell; the church would rather priests didn't believe it, but they won't stop you if you do.
That may be a crude caricature of the church's attitude to cherishing children, but it's a real and powerful one. To counter it, the church needs to establish a narrative which is equally as compelling. Instead, it seems to have become increasingly insular, talking to themselves rather than to the world. Ultimately, that can only damage the church.
Traditional Catholics cannot expect their own arguments against women priests to be heard with respect, rather than shrilly shouted down by intolerant liberals as now, whilst not listening with equal respect to those who differ. Jaw jaw is always better than war war. But then I would say that. I'm a woman. Albeit one who can read maps.