We Are Church Ireland is issuing this statement to correct the distorted reporting by some media outlets of a small part of Mary McAleese’s contribution when she spoke with Sr. Joan Chittister at “The Women the Vatican Couldn’t Silence” event in Trinity College on 2 November 2019.
Ursula Halligan asked: “How would you describe the role of women in the Church today?
Sr. Joan Chittister replied first and spoke about the “invisibility“ of women.
Mary McAleese then replied:
“Absolutely. Even more the invisible, deliberately made invisible, deliberately meant to stay invisible structurally. Structurally the architecture of the church is designed to create the invisibility and maintain the invisibility and the powerlessness of women. To corral us. If you just bear with me could I just read a little section from the writings of Pope John Paul ll? This is a recent pope. So we are not talking about the Dark Ages. We’re talking about a recent pope from his book “Love and Responsibility”. This is his description of marriage, of sex and marriage. This is a short thing.
It’s the very nature of the act that the man plays the active role and takes the initiative while 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 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.
That is how we are treated in the church, expected to be asleep, unconscious, while men get on with doing what they have to do. And here’s the sequel to that: When Fr Seán Fagan called Pope John Paul out on that and said the obvious, he asked a question: He said: Can this really be Catholic Church teaching he said. It sounds like rape.
What happened? Pope John Paul becomes a saint. Seán Fagan becomes silenced. That’s our church.”
What is being totally missed is the context in which Mary McAleese made her statement. She was answering a question on the role of women in the church today.
She used this factually correct extract as an analogy for the unequal role of women in the Church generally, with men dominant and women receivers (of church teachings, governance etc.).
Mary McAleese did not misrepresent Pope John Paul ll's views. It is she who is being misrepresented when her statement is being lifted out of its context and the clear analogy missed.
This can be checked on our recording of the event (from 49th minute). https://youtu.be/XY2ZOD-08GE
We Are Church Ireland