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Catholic priesthood is based around a 'fundamental lie', says former president Mary McAleese


Former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Former president of Ireland and the new Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, Professor Mary McAleese has said she believes the Catholic priesthood is based around “a fundamental lie”.

She told a conference in TCD on Saturday attended by up to 400 people, including the Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast, that a clericalised priesthood was not attracting vocations today and that many of those who are attracted to priesthood have a “deeply problematic” sexuality because the Church demands that those priests and seminarians who are not heterosexual pretend to be.

Recalling the six years she spent studying for a doctorate in canon law in Rome, living in the environs of a seminary and monastery, she said she had encountered many young seminarians and priests.

“I became 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 gays I met frightened me. The homophobia of people who are gay is a lie - it is a vicious lie. But they live it and in living it, apart from making themselves miserable, they also make a lot of other people miserable.” She said that as pastors, “their capacity for dispersing misery is really immense. That worries me greatly.”

Professor McAleese was speaking at a conference, ‘Women the Vatican Couldn’t Silence’ along with American theologian and Benedictine nun, Sr Joan Chittister.

The former head of state said she believed the construct the Church had “invented” around excluding women from the priesthood would go the same way as the construct the church invented for using castrati up to 1917, in order to prevent women singing in church choirs.

She called for the culture of deference towards priesthood and silence on women to be stripped away.

Sr Chittister, who was threatened with excommunication in 2001 over her attendance in Ireland of the first conference of Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) said women’s role in the church today is “invisible” and that the catholic church “is a wholly owned subsidiarity of pious males”.

Dr McAleese, who last week was presented with the prestigious Alfons Auer Ethics Award for catholic theologians by Tübingen University in Germany, said structurally the architecture of the church is designed to maintain the invisibility and the powerlessness of women.

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She quoted from a book of theology ‘Love and Responsibility’ by the late Pope St John Paul II which stated that in the act of sex in a marriage, the woman “is a comparatively passive partner whose function it is to accept and experience. For the purpose of the sexual act it is enough for her to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it can even take place without her volition while she is in a state in which she has no awareness at all of what is happening – for instance when she is asleep or unconscious.”

She noted that the late Irish theologian Fr Seán Fagan, who was censured by the Vatican, had questioned Pope John Paul on this saying it sounded like rape. “What happened? Pope John Paul becomes a saint. Seán Fagan becomes silenced. That’s our church,” said Professor McAleese.

Dr McAleese also called on the Irish bishops’ conference to intervene in the case of silenced Irish priest Fr Tony Flannery who was censured by the Vatican in 2012.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, she said the Vatican “know perfectly well that he is no heretic. It would be wonderful if the episcopal conference could see its way to asking the curia – the CDF in particular – to resolve the issue because it is a festering sore. It doesn’t reflect well on those who are our sacred pastors. Any of them.”

She added that it was “a disgrace that the Vatican lets itself down in this way. It preaches human rights to the world and yet does not practice what it preaches.” 

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