Friday 24 October 2014

Why there is much more to modern family life than knowing how to change a nappy

Published 20/06/2014 | 02:30

Former President Mary McAleese. Mark Condren
Former President Mary McAleese. Mark Condren

If Mary McAleese has achieved nothing else she has drawn attention to the fact that Pope Francis is hosting a meeting of the world's bishops in Rome in October to discuss the family.

To use the Church's terminology, it's a 'synod' and it is one of the very first initiatives the Pope announced after taking office last year.

Our former president drew attention to it by condemning Pope Francis' plan as "completely bonkers".

Why is it bonkers? She says it's bonkers because the family is going to be discussed by a bunch of men "who have decided they are not going to have any children, not going to have families, not going to be fathers and not going to be spouses".

Seeing as Jesus made all those same decisions for himself (unless we're to believe The Da Vinci Code that is), I suppose we'll have to ignore anything he had to say about the matter as well.

Ahead of the synod, a big, wide-ranging questionnaire was sent out that any Catholic could respond to through their diocese if they so wished.

Mrs McAleese reckons there should have been only one question asked, namely: "How many of the men who will gather to advise you as pope on the family have ever changed a nappy?

"I regard that as a very, very serious question."

Actually, it's not very serious. One would think from Mrs McAleese that the bishops had somehow descended down to earth fully grown, disembodied and without any experience of family life of any kind.

You would think they have no brothers, no sisters, no mothers or fathers, no nieces or nephews, no cousins.

You would think that none of them has any experience of family life from their own pastoral work before they ever became bishops.

That is, they never came in contact with flesh and blood families and their flesh and blood problems.

To judge by Mrs McAleese's comments, we would have to discount the opinions of Pope Francis himself because he is a celibate, single male.

But he seems to be a fairly earthy, grounded sort of person who certainly gives the distinct impression that he knows a bit about real life.

However, seeing as Pope Francis has never changed a nappy he is clearly disqualified from having an opinion about the family and so that is that.

In similar vein I suppose the bishops should be barred from expressing an opinion about economic life and how that impacts on the lives of people, especially the poor.

No bishop has ever run an economy or a business and very few are qualified in economics.

Therefore they should not opine about poverty and social justice or even apply general principles to economic life even though a big portion of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is about socio-economic relations because that is such a big part of human life and has a huge amount to do with moral conduct.

Sadly, what our former president is doing is stereotyping.

Even feminist theologian Gina Menzies, who is on the same page theologically as Mrs McAleese in most respects, thought she was engaging in hyperbole.

A further point is that a synod of Bishops is exactly that, a synod of Bishops, just like a cabinet meeting is a cabinet meeting.

The Church has plenty of other meetings which anyone can attend. For example, the Irish bishops organised a public meeting last week at Clonliffe College in Dublin to discuss the family in preparation for October's synod and the overwhelming majority of people there were lay people both men and women.

I suppose a further complaint of Mrs McAleese is that none of these lay people have the same authority to make decisions about the Church as the bishops, least of all women.

The issue of whether women should be ordained is a very tricky one and the Church will have to do a much better job of explaining its teaching in this area to people.

However, even if somehow or another there are women priests and bishops one day, a synod of Bishops will still be a synod of Bishops, they might still be unmarried, the Church will still be hierarchical and the bishops in communion with the pope will still have ultimate authority to teach and to govern. The Catholic Church believes this isn't some man-made rule, but rather the way Jesus intends the Church to be.

Apart from anything else, however, it is extremely odd that Mrs McAleese should set her face against the synod so decisively, and for that matter against an initiative of Pope Francis who so far strikes most people as a breath of fresh air.

The synods are largely a rediscovery of the Second Vatican Council.

They are supposed to be a way of bringing about greater 'collegiality' in the Church, that is, a better way of letting the bishops of the world plus the Pope make key decisions together.

Mrs McAleese is supposed to be a fan of the Second Vatican Council. She has written a whole book about collegiality in the Church and yet here she is, along with some members of the Association of Catholic Priests, condemning October's synod before it even gets started.

So, ironically, our former president appears to be setting her face not only against the coming synod, but logically against the Second Vatican Council as well, seeing as the Council authorised those synods and was itself a meeting of bishops.

David Quinn

Irish Independent

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