Comment - Church must now stop strangling female voices
If the Catholic Church is serious about a "deeper theology for women" or a better understanding of the "feminine genius", as Pope Francis has called for on many occasions, then its first step must be to stop strangulating women's voices.
Freedom of thought and expression is a basic human right which the Church still grapples with by clamping down on those who ask searching questions.
Francis himself has said: "Women in the Church are more important than bishops and priests."
That is hard to square with the attempt to dictate the line-up of speakers at this year's 'Voices of Faith' conference 'Why Women Matter'.
Censoring who can and cannot speak is a throwback to the kind of clericalist mentality that has dogged the Church for far too long.
'Voices of Faith' (VOF) is an initiative that seeks to empower and advocate for Catholic women to have a seat at the table of decision-making in the Church.
But that organisation has found itself out in the cold thanks to an Irishman.
That Cardinal Kevin Farrell hails from a country marking the centenary of women's suffrage makes it even more disappointing.
The cardinal tried to block a former head of state, a woman, from giving the keynote address at this prestigious conference on International Women's Day.
Rather than drop Dr Mary McAleese, the conference organisers had no choice but to change the venue to outside the Vatican.
Research shows women leaving the Church in significant numbers; can the Vatican afford to alienate more women with such clumsy actions?
As the young Polish theologian Zuzanna Radzik who will address the conference in March has said: "Women are the Church, more than half of it, and yet they have been excluded from shaping it for most of history. Why should the Church matter in women's lives if it keeps discriminating against them?"
It is time, according to Chantal Götz, executive director of Voices of Faith, that those cardinals who have spoken in support of women's role in the Church to act on their words.
As Mary McAleese has observed, "God gave us two wings so that humanity could soar to great heights and feel the power and see the beauty of his creation in all its wonder. Yet our Church insists on flying on one wing, overlooking and wasting the talents and insights of so many wonderful, faithful, Godly women. Why? Can this tragic dysfunction really be what God wants?"