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Mary McAleese and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church and Mary McAleese    Gerry O'Shea

 Mary McAleese, the former Irish president who served from 1997 until 2011, by her own description, is a devout, practicing Catholic who is alienated from her church in some important areas of belief and practice.

Her son, Justin, is a married gay man, who has suffered the humiliation of being sidelined in his church as "an intrinsically disordered person." Catholic teaching stresses that sexual intimacy can only be expressed between a man and a woman. There is no place in the church's theology of sexuality for the physical dimension of homosexual love.

McAleese rejects this rationalization where moral probity in sexual behavior is determined not by the love between the partners but by their genital biology. She deems such thinking  "evil" and condemns it as  "unchristian and uncharitable."

The former president bemoans how this outmoded moral perspective, preached for centuries in Catholic churches, "has ruined family lives, caused many gays to commit suicide, and forced good people to live in dark corners."

Outside of the church, the situation for gay people has improved dramatically. In Ireland, for instance, the right to marry now includes homosexuals, and the courts in the United States have also validated same-sex unions.

The Catholic Church's insistence on maintaining a traditional belief system on human sexuality presents a major intellectual challenge for church leaders. They fear, for instance, that to change the teaching in Humanae Vitae, Paul VI's controversial 1968 encyclical on birth control, in order to allow Catholics to use contraceptives, would diminish papal authority. Two popes, Pius XI in the 1930's and Paul VI thirty eight years later pronounced that, for example, it was sinful for a married man to use a condom  -  a preposterous  moral  prescription in today's world.

Of course, the church has often been forced to change its beliefs. Think of slavery, considered by many to be the greatest moral issue of the past millennium. It would be nice to believe that the Vatican theologians got that right and were early opponents of the horrors of a slave system, but history tells us otherwise.

Or how do you explain the awful belief in limbo, which closed heaven's door to innocent un-baptized babies  and was included for belief in every Catholic catechism until relatively recently. It is gone now and purgatory and hellfire are waiting a final push out that same exit door and into the darkness where they belong.

Another major complaint by Mrs. McAleese concerns the church's attitudes to women and their role in the power structures  in the Catholic religion. She believes with good cause that "the Catholic Church has been a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny. ---  the Catholic Church hates women."  Strong words directed at church structures, not at individual leaders, from a committed Catholic with an advanced degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University, the famous Jesuit institution in Rome.

The Synod on the Family, called by Pope Francis, met for two major sessions in Rome in 2014 and 2015. The purpose of the Synod was to examine how the church could improve its services to Catholic families in all their permutations in the 21st century. Serving LGBT families and the ban on divorced parents receiving communion were both on the Synod agenda.

Pope Francis encouraged open and frank discussions on these and other knotty issues. There were a series of ballots on many of the proposals with 279 people voting, all male and nearly all over 50. Out of a membership that includes 1.2 billion people, there wasn't even one woman voting on recommendations to change or update policy on improving pastoral services to families in the church. Why would any young woman want to be associated with or look to that institution for moral guidance?

The patriarchal clerical approach to decision-making  is dooming the church to a minor role in all facets of modern society. Females in our time occupy some of the highest positions in companies and in public service, but the Catholic Church argues that they have no place in major areas of responsibility in the church. Men with Roman collars rule the roost!

Women are excluded from the priesthood by biblical arguments that McAleese appropriately describes as "codolgy dressed up as theology." St. Paul  wrote about the deaconess named Phoebe in his Epistle to the Romans which is part of the New Testament. So surely the powers-that-be will concede on this piece of tradition and ordain women to the deaconate.  The signs are not good for this change anytime soon.

The bottom line is that what applied in church and society in previous centuries represented the culture of those times - and the record for women's rights in all facets of living was dismal until recent years. Our times are very different and women's roles in the church should follow the positive culture of this century.

Only 25% of American women who identify themselves as Catholic attend weekly mass, and it is safe to assert that the big majority of these are over 50. Polls show that most American Catholics support full rights for gays, including the right to marry. These studies also reveal that a small majority favor priestly ordination for women.

Mary McAleese has declared that she will not meet the pope or participate in any of the festivities when Francis visits Ireland at the end of August for The World Meeting of Families. The original plan for the event included wide involvement by non-traditional families, especially those headed by gay couples. However, some cardinals in the Vatican objected and  insisted that the focus must be entirely on traditional families.

 Mrs. McAleese says she will not be associated with any purportedly religious event that excludes gays or other groups consigned to the margins of the church community.





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