Wednesday 12 December 2018

Barring Mary from Vatican insults women

Excluding our former president from speaking at a conference is an affront to those she represents, says Dearbhail McDonald

POPE FRANCIS: How he responds to Mary McAleese’s letter, seeking clarity on her exclusion from the Vatican, will be instructive
POPE FRANCIS: How he responds to Mary McAleese’s letter, seeking clarity on her exclusion from the Vatican, will be instructive
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

What Would Jesus Do? is the phrase much beloved of Christian youth groups that has spawned everything from bumper car stickers to bracelets, books, movies - and plenty of parody offshoots.

I thought of the phrase last week when Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland and a canon law expert, was barred from taking part in a conference on Vatican property, ostensibly for her support of LGBTI people.

Mrs McAleese was barred from addressing the Why Women Matter conference by Cardinal Kevin Farrell - the Irish Vatican official with responsibility for co-ordinating efforts around the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) conference which will be attended by Pope Francis.

The presence of Pope Francis at WMOF2018 will mark the first papal visit to Ireland since that of John Paul II and the first since the clerical sex and institutional abuse scandals that have rocked the hierarchy in Ireland and elsewhere.

It follows the historic marriage equality vote and comes in the midst of a major public debate affecting the rights of women and girls.

The visit by Pope Francis is not a State visit, but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has deployed the full financial might of the State to facilitate the Pope, saying that he will treat it as a de facto State visit with all of the security, overheads, diplomacy and protocol such visits attract.

The visit also has the potential, in terms of the peace process, currently teetering on the brink of a return to direct rule, to be truly historic.

This is because Francis may do what John Paul could not, namely cross the Border to visit Northern Ireland.

The WMOF was meant to mark a turning point for the Catholic Church in Ireland which was, the healing words of Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin aside, roundly criticised for a discriminatory and distinctly un-Christian attitude towards the suffering of the LGBTI community and their families during the marriage equality campaign.

The WMOF was meant to be an inclusive, fresh start, but was marred last Christmas when text and pictures relating to same-sex couples in a preparatory booklet for the world meeting were removed in a replacement booklet.

The World Meeting of Families, the revised booklet told us, does not include your loved ones who are LGBTI.

That diplomatic headache was compounded last week when reports emerged that Mrs McAleese, who has valiantly and intelligently tried to reform the Church from within, was blackballed by Cardinal Farrell.

How Pope Francis responds to her letter seeking clarity on her exclusion from the Vatican will be instructive as to the depth of his reform agenda. But it is also a test of the Irish bishops and the State itself.

The only response by the Church hierarchy has been from Archbishop Martin, chairman of World Meeting of Families 2018, a company limited by guarantee that was set up in 2016 to manage and deploy the massive fundraising efforts and expenditure associated with the event.

The WMOF is being hosted by the Archdiocese of Dublin but is supported by the entire hierarchy.

Last Friday, Archbishop Martin issued a statement saying that the first he heard of the ban was from Mrs McAleese herself, stressing, pointedly, that the WMOF "will be an inclusive event, open to all families and family members".

The hierarchy, led by Archbishop Eamon Martin - the most senior prelate in Ireland - said nothing, a silence interpreted by many as an implicit if not express approval of Cardinal Farrell's hard-line stance.

So what, you might ask? Isn't the Vatican entitled to play by its own rules by excluding our internationally renowned, twice former head of State?

The Vatican welcomed, with open arms, a man who rose to the highest political office in the world with 'Make America Great Again' in one hand and 'Grab 'em by the pussy in another' - but, hey, that's diplomacy. Your club, your rules. Except that it's not OK due to the exceptionalism still afforded to the Catholic Church in Ireland, separation of Church and State notwithstanding.

The State has afforded exclusivity to the Irish Bishops' Conference to lobby the Cabinet on matters including the Eighth Amendment through the Church-State structured dialogue process, a bi-lateral privilege not afforded to women and others.

The State does not subject the Church to strict rules on political funding that others are subjected to during referenda.

The State educates teachers, pays their salaries, sets curricula and still allows the Church to control 90pc of our schools. Ditto for control of many of our publicly funded hospitals.

It's a quirk of history, in one sense - but let's not fool ourselves that many of our public services don't bear the hallmarks of relics of a theocratic state.

Critically, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar - who has also stayed silent on the banning of Mrs McAleese - has committed taxpayer funds and the imprimatur of the State to the proposed papal visit to coincide with the WMOF, thereby endorsing - even at arm's length - Cardinal Farrell's orthodoxies.

The 'no platforming' of Mary McAleese is a major diplomatic issue, not a private matter for the Church.

It is a grotesque insult to Mrs McAleese, the citizenry she represented with such distinction and to the women of Ireland.

Pope Francis can play by his own rules, but not while his Church takes advantage of ours.

And if Mr Varadkar sides with the Vatican, the message he sends to Ireland is that it is truly no country for women and the LGBTI community after all.

Sunday Independent

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