Misogyny in the Vatican


Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

Was St Brigid a bishop? Noel Kissane, in his recent book on the saint, addresses the question. In the pantheon of celtic saints she shares top billing with St Patrick and St Colmcille. In early accounts of her life she is reported to have attended bishops meetings and to have had a pastoral role similar to them. Some illustrators depict her holding what seems to be a bishop’s Crozier.

Eventually Kissane concludes that it was unlikely she was ordained to the episcopacy. One can almost hear the sigh of relief from those who oppose female ordination in the Catholic Church. He does, however, state the view of Pádraig Ó Riain, the modern authority on early Irish saints, that the rank of abbess which she held was equivalent or superior to that of a bishop.

Whether or not Brigid was a bishop, it is clear that she found a warmer welcome in the leadership of the Irish Church than Mary McAleese found recently in the Vatican. Our former president was invited to be a panel member at the ‘Voices of Faith’ conference due to be held on Thursday next in the Vatican.

The conference on women’s rights has taken place for the last four years on International Women’s Day. In accordance with protocol, the organisers submitted the list of speakers to the Vatican for approval.

Mrs McAleese was one of three speakers from whom approval was withheld. She, who as President of the Republic of Ireland was welcomed to the Vatican by the Pope was now deemed unworthy of a seat in a meeting hall there.

It is reported that Dublin-born Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s department of ‘Laity, Family and Life’, objected to her presence. He is the main organiser of the ‘World Meeting of Families’ to be held in Dublin next August. Those expecting a free and honest exchange of views at this event have been warned.

Mrs McAleese is a committed Catholic with liberal views. Two years ago she was a prominent supporter of the referendum to allow same sex marriage. Like many of us she is appalled by the Vatican’s description of homosexuality as disordered.

She is in favour of the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood. In 1994 she joined Basic, an organisation that campaigns for female ordination and spoke at its inaugural conference.
It is not the first time that she has attracted the ire of senior Catholic clergymen. Shortly after becoming Irish President, she met Cardinal Law of Boston on a visit to the city. He was then a formidable figure whose arrogance and petulance rivalled that of Donald Trump. In front of government ministers he castigated her for her ‘attitude to women in the church’ and deemed her ‘a very poor Catholic President’.

In 1998 the then Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell criticised her receiving the Eucharist at a Church of Ireland service in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I first got to know Mrs McAleese when I was editor of ‘Intercom’ in the 1990s. I invited her to write for the magazine. She wrote a series of columns that were well informed, passionate and thought-provoking on the evils of sectarianism, female ordination and the need for interdenominational education to help reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Many clerics dismissed here contributions as ‘angry’. Sometimes anger is necessary as Jesus found when he dumped the traders out of the temple.

This recent controversy highlights once again the density of patriarchy in the institutional Catholic Church. It is the last bastion of exclusive male domination in the western world.
Misogyny in the Vatican is draped in theological abstractions especially in regard to female ordination. Such patriarchy is as insidious and destructive as woodworm in furniture.

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  1. Mary McAleese is a formidable woman and I for one applaud her courage for speaking out about the ingrained Misogny in the Catholic Church.
    One exception was the late Spanish Cardinal Carlo Martini who described the Catholic Church as a pompous bureaucratic institution , 200 years behind the times.
    Priests working every day in their parishes are too suffering the fall out from the Catholic Churches failure to reform and move with the times as more and more people abandon their formal faith.

  2. Chris McDonnell says:

    The Bishops attended Vatican II
    they will take their wives to Vatican III
    and their husbands to Vatican IV
    just hang in there

  3. John Dwyer Kirwin says:

    Chris – that’s a lot of hanging! What to do in the meantime?

  4. Frances Burke says:

    I’d say there are some men not very happy (apoplectic I’d say) with Mary McAleese and her speech at the Why Women Matter conference today celebrating International Women’s Day.

    Describing the Catholic Church as “an empire of misogyny” and
    the Catholic Church’s ban on women priests as “codology dressed up as theology” will ‘ruffle’ a few feathers I’d say.

    It takes enormous strength of character, courage of conviction and faith to take the path she is on, and I applaud her for so doing. Women need to support her now, by following her example and speaking up, because that is the only way that a fully inclusive Church can be created.

  5. Eddie Finnegan says:

    From the excellent live streaming of the Voices of Faith in Rome (Part 2 just about to begin 3.15pmGMT): wonderful and courageous speakers, including the three banned by Kevin Farrell. Kevin himself doesn’t seem to have found his way to the new venue. Unfortunately, some like Ms Warry of Uganda(now there’s a really courageous woman!) don’t seem to get the coverage they need and deserve in these parts.

  6. Chris McDonnell says:

    I appreciate that might be a long time to wait
    Maybe we should skip a couple of my suggested stages and make sure that
    all of us, whatever our gender, speak up loudly on behalf of anyone denied a voice and do so now.

  7. Phil Greene says:

    WOW, what an International Women’s Day we have had !
    Again the Irish do us proud , in the form this time of Mary McAleese , what a person!
    Equality with women, why is it such a terrible concept for some? Why so totally at odds with seminarian teaching and Catholic practise.. ? No doubt we will see many trying to rain on Mary’s parade today and in the future, but this rain is making the parade grow bigger and stronger .. so bring it on !!!
    Mary is using her gifts,her God-given gifts to make a difference, to bring about change in this world; it will be on her shoulders plus the shoulders of enlightened men and women that women priests and decision-makers within the institution will eventually stand upon.. it is only a matter of time.. why make the journey more arduous than it needs to be?
    And what of Kevin Farrell, he helped make it all possible and gave it much more publicity than it might otherwise have received! Thanks Kevin!

    So, to all the ladies out there and those enlightened men who support us so vigourously .. today let us pour a glass of our favourite tipple and let’s raise our glasses “to Mary, and to Equality within our institutional Church”

  8. Bernard Kennedy says:

    Mary McAleese,in her speech,and Fr. James Martin, SJ, in his welcome book, Building Bridges, are being prophetic and led by the Spirit. Both works are a Lenten reflection. Behind the oppression is an understanding of women and sexuality which is based upon ancient eastern anthropology. Modern academic understanding on gender theory does not support the views they rightly challenge- we lack in our church the application of modernity and the modern woman and man cannot align themselves to the ancient regime. This is why they walk away. Let us as followers of The Lord, who reached the margins, and the alienated, guide us to hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to the Church. The Jesuit Order are to be commended for making their space available- in both cases.’ Behold I am doing a new thing’. Oppression is always sinful, inequality is the sin of our age.

  9. Rory Connor says:

    Regarding the title of this article:
    The word “misogyny” means hatred of women; it does NOT mean someone who is opposed to the ordination of women as Catholic priests. St Francis of Assisi was not a misogynist, neither was St Francis Xavier whose Novena of Grace is being celebrated at the present time. I understand that Pope Francis was inspired by both to choose his own name.

    It might be said – oh that was centuries ago and you must consider the cultural context. Well actually I know very decent people in the Catholic Church today who do not support the ordination of women and are NOT “misogynists”. As for myself I was never a strong supporter of that cause, but I was once much LESS opposed to it than I am now. The main reason why I changed my mind is set out in an article I wrote about the Sisters of Mercy on my website IrishSalem.com.
    (And as I indicate in the article, the attitude of the Sisters of Mercy seems to be typical of female religious congregations when faced with lying allegations).

    On 9th March the Irish Independent carried a gleeful headline over a full page article: McAleese Labels Church ‘a Global Carrier of Virus of Misogyny’ and I quote:

    Ahead of the event, [the Voices of Faith event on International Women’s Day] Mrs McAleese said: “The Catholic Church is one of the last great bastions of misogyny. It’s an empire of misogyny”…….A Church hierarchy that is “homophobic and anti-abortion is not the Church of the future”, she added.

    In a stinging speech, she called the Church a “primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny”….

    Once again I should point out that “homophobia” means hatred of homosexual persons; it does NOT mean opposition to same sex marriage! For a “liberal” Mary McAleese uses very strange language to describe people that she disagres with. She wasn’t the first of course. In a famous article written in 1946, “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell observed:
    Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    Irish Catholic:

    It is believed what she actually said was that she fears the Catholic Church’s hierarchy has “reduced Christ to this rather unattractive politician who is just misogynistic and homophobic and anti-abortion”.

    While speaking at the annual ‘Voices of Faith’ conference in Rome on International Women’s Day she made no reference to abortion, but made the comment at a press conference.

    Mrs McAleese has previously publicly stated her opposition to abortion on several occasions, and most notably when she was a member of the Catholic Church Episcopal Delegation to the New Ireland Forum in 1983 which expressed an anti-abortion viewpoint.

    More recently in an interview in 1997 Mrs McAleese said she still had “exactly the same commitment to the right of the unborn that I have always had”. She was in favour of putting the Eighth Amendment into the constitution in 1983.

  11. Rory Connor says:

    Fr Joe
    If Mary McAleese was mis-quoted (by people who hate the Catholic Church) she needs to sort things out quickly. According to a report I part-heard on RTE 1 radio this afternoon, her comment that the Church is “a global carrier of the virus of misogyny” is making headlines world-wide and there is to be some kind of discussion about it on RTE on Monday. The business of describing a certain religious group as a “virus-carrier” does have a precedent in the 20th century – and it wasn’t either liberals or Catholic traditionalists who talked that way!

    Also I see that Fr Hegarty had a letter in the Irish Times on Saturday:
    I found Mary McAleese’s address at the Voices of Faith conference inspiring (Patsy McGarry, Home News, March 9th). It had the clarity of biblical prophecy.

    I suggest that those of us who agree with her forensic dissection of misogyny in the Catholic Church show our solidarity with her by absenting ourselves from the chrism Masses celebrated in cathedrals during Holy week. One of the purposes of the chrism Mass is to celebrate the male priesthood. How can we condone inequality while claiming to proclaim the inclusive and liberating message of Jesus Christ.

    I recall that several years ago, our anti-clerical media heavily promoted a similar ‘boycott of the Mass’ call by the mother of a priest in Co. Cork. On the appointed Sunday the local parish priest was quoting as saying that, if anything, MORE people had attended Mass that day – presumably to ensure that they weren’t counted as supporters of the boycott! Let’s see what happens this time around.

  12. Paddy Ferry says:

    Mary is wonderful. An intelligent, articulate, exceptionally able and internationally respected woman who deeply cares about our church and who is able and willing to tell it as it is. Thank God for her.

  13. Colm Holmes says:

    Fr Kevin Hegarty proposes priests absent themselves at the chrism Masses to show their opposition to misogyny and solidarity with women in the Catholic Church. We Are Church Ireland hope many will follow his call in his letter to the Irish Times (10 March 2018):


    I found Mary McAleese’s address at the Voices of Faith conference inspiring (Patsy McGarry, Home News, March 9th). It had the clarity of biblical prophecy.

    I suggest that those of us who agree with her forensic dissection of misogyny in the Catholic Church show our solidarity with her by absenting ourselves from the chrism Masses celebrated in cathedrals during Holy week. One of the purposes of the chrism Mass is to celebrate the male priesthood. How can we condone inequality while claiming to proclaim the inclusive and liberating message of Jesus Christ.

    Yours, etc,


    Belmullet, Co Mayo.

  14. Mary Vallely says:

    I always attend the Chrism mass in our beautiful cathedral here in Armagh and like many of those around me, mainly elderly women, find it a very poignant occasion. To watch the once young men I remember shuffling down the aisle, grey haired or balding, bespectacled, with tired and colourless complexions, blending into each other in their grey anonymity, is a very moving sight. There are many priests who have been greatly loved by their parishioners and it is heartwarming to see them embraced by those who acknowledge their devotion. Until recently I had always assumed celibacy was something cherished and a vow mostly adhered to. I was as naive as most and I admire and respect those who have battled with the long loneliness of celibate priesthood. I think many of us have wakened up to the fact that change is necessary and that we have been enablers of a system which is inherently discriminatory and wrong. To deny one half of the human race any part in governance is downright unfair and to forbid even discussion on women’s ordination is actually risible and a blatant example of that misogyny which is so deeply engrained in this institution.
    I applaud Fr Kevin Hegarty’s courage. As a priest he is incredibly brave, honest and inspirational. His call and WAC’s endorsement of it to boycott the Chrism mass is one I will follow. It is a small gesture but small gestures lead to more and greater ones and we must shake ourselves out of our apathy and act with Christ- like courage.

  15. Paddy Ferry says:

    Mary, that is a beautiful reflection –poignant and poetic, and obviously heartfelt. Speaking as a man, I think it is outrageously “discriminatory and wrong”. But how much more must that be felt by women like yourself. Sadly, as you say, “we have been enablers of a system which is inherently discriminatory and wrong.” The next question must be, are we still enablers of that corrupt system?
    I also think Kevin Hegarty is a great man.
    I hope the recuperation is progressing well.

  16. Phil Greene says:

    I have never attended Chrism Mass as am normally working, so I assume this is the case for many my age and younger. If this is the case then it falls to an older generation to attend. This generation is probably the last where so many gave so much service to our Church and encouraged their children to do likewise. It’s the generation who now probably clean the churches and the linen etc.. Many doing these jobs are women I would think. Therefore absenting oneself from this Chrism Mass would indeed go against the grain, feel wrong, leave a person feeling at a loss, or letting the church down.. please don’t feel this way .. as Mary so rightfully talks about “courage” above then we need your courage more than ever to show that the Church hierarchy that women must no longer be ignored. Your voice is important, your presence – or lack thereof -is important. It is not a personal attack on your parish priest/bishop and if he makes you feel any guilt then it is wrong of him to apply emotional blackmail. It is not about him but about the bigger picture. So take heart and take courage and make a difference this Easter.

  17. Paddy Ferry says:

    In his March 13th article in the Irish Times, Fr. Tony Flannery said;

     “I have no doubt that the unequal treatment of women is the greatest challenge facing the Catholic Church, and on how it deals with this will greatly depend its credibility into the future.”

    A truer word was never said.

    You will all be aware that Prof. Peter Hunermann is in the news at the moment. The reason for this, apparently, goes back to his book on woman’s ordination and his rejection of John Paul II’S stated position –ruling out the ordinatioin of women for ever– on scriptural, tradition and theological grounds. John Wijngaards has, apparently, translated Fr. Hunermann’s book. I am wondering if Joe, Padraig, Tony himself or Sean would have access to the parts of his book which challenges the JP II position on the grounds I have mentioned.
    This would be an important issue to discuss on this forum.

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    I just checked and found no fewer than 45 Hünermann titles in Sophia University library. Not sure which of them deals with ordination of women. The pope emeritus’s comments are dismally petty, and further confirm what is becoming firmly established as historical fact: that Ratzinger’s role in Catholic theology has been criminally destructive; see the recent books by William Burrows, Gerard O’Connell, and Ambrose Mong on the cases of Jacques Dupuis and others.

  19. Eddie Finnegan says:

    “Holy Week is with us once again,” writes Ronan Drury in the March FURROW. Alas, Editor Ronan is no longer with us since November but his article,’The Week of the Passion’, is reproduced by the journal’s third editor 60 years after its first appearance in April 1958. Well worth a read (again). Ronan is missed, but he wouldn’t have missed the Chrism Mass any more than he’d have missed his Christmas Midnight Mass back home in Mullagh over 68 years of priesthood.

    But Holy Week is indeed with us once again and the sound of the boycott is heard in our land. A good Mayo word that, ‘boycott’, though not quite a Killala word. More Tuamish, minted by a real activist pastor, Fr John O’Malley PP of The Neale near Cong in 1880 and entered in the OED by 1888. Up North in Belmullet priest activists or their online cheerleaders may shy away a little from this solid lexicon entry, boycotting the Cong & Lough Mask usage, boycott (v.& n.), in favour of more weasel words such as ‘proposal’, ‘suggestion’, ‘solidarity by absence’, ‘small gesture’. But thanks, Mary, for remembering Fr O’Malley and Captain Boycott and refusing to boycott their coinage and derivative.

    But surely what real reformers and protesters need is a whole new concept of solidarity, “Real Absence” as distinct from “Real Presence”? And why stop at tokenism? If you can weaponise the Chrism Liturgy, renewal of priestly commitment and unity with your bishop (a Paul VI revival, I think) why not bring out the real artillery: boycott Holy Week, Easter, the whole season up to and including Pentecost? Don’t tell me that token sprinkling and towelling of a few well behaved women’s already carefully washed and perfumed feet on Thursday evening is another great anti-misogynistic feat of solidarity. Or even allowing one or two lassies to strike a light and bring around the tapers or paschal candle on Saturday night. Go for broke if you really believe there’s something in your suggestion. Patsy McGarry will have it on the front page for weeks on end.

    Fr Kevin, I don’t know how your colleagues in Killala’s 22 parishes have taken to your ‘suggestion’. After more than a fortnight, I haven’t seen any great ‘me too’ movement among your ACP confreres on this forum. Pity. There may even be a few wags around the diocese who may be thinking that if Kevin doesn’t turn up, his Co-Pastor Fr Reilly will be sure to attend if only to ensure that Belmullet’s Oils of Chrism stocks don’t run out before the Easter Vigil. There may be some Baptisms or Confirmations, if not local Ordinations, in the offing.

    For myself as a mere layman, I have never noticed any great misogynistic significance in any Chrism Mass I’ve attended in the cathedrals of Armagh, Westminster, Southwark, Freetown, Vienna or St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But then, as Mary suggests@15, I may well be a naïve enabler of a system that needs a good kicking. All I’d say is, Kevin’s absenting himself from St Muredach’s Ballina this week is a naïve and pointless weapon – whether he chooses to call it a token gesture, a suggestion, a proposal, a boycott or indeed a ‘fleming’. Wrong target, wrong arena, wrong weapon.

    But to return to Mary’s ‘grey anonymity’ and ‘tired and colourless complexions gliding or stumbling through Armagh cathedral, have a look at last year’s Chrism Mass in St Peter’s. http://www.aaog.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/chrism-mass-celebrated-in-rome.html

    Back in 2009 the then Swiss Guard commander, unlike his predecessor, predicted that women might one day join this colourful force. The only problem he saw was that the Vatican barracks were already overcrowded. Five years later Pope Francis sacked him for “being too strict”. Will the Curia allow young women to join the 19-30 year old halberdiers before it opens up the 30-90 year old cluttered ranks to more mature women? The British Army recruited its first women 100 years ago today. To your halberds and 500 year old costumes, ladies.

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