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In this March 23, 2007 photo, Pope Benedict XVI and Ireland President Mary McAleese pose for photographers prior to a private audience the pontiff granted her at the Vatican (AP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli, Pool, file).In this March 23, 2007 photo, Pope Benedict XVI and Ireland President Mary McAleese pose for photographers prior to a private audience the pontiff granted her at the Vatican (AP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli, Pool, file).

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A group that advocates for greater leadership roles for women in the Catholic Church says the Vatican has refused to let former Irish President Mary McAleese participate in an annual event marking International Women’s Day, and that organizers are taking the event elsewhere.

Ms. McAleese, who has a gay son and has criticized the church’s position on L.G.B.T. issues, was invited by the Voices of Faith advocacy group to participate in a March 8 panel discussion at the Vatican on women in church governance. In previous years, the Women’s Day event has been held at the Casina Pio IV, a small palazzo in the Vatican gardens that hosts a variety of international conferences.

Voices of Faith said it submitted names of a dozen proposed panelists to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s laity office, which for the first time this year was tasked with overseeing the Women’s Day event.

The group said Friday that Cardinal Farrell had rejected Ms. McAleese and a Ugandan L.G.B.T. rights advocate, Ssenfuka Juanita Warry, as well as a third, unnamed panelist. No reason was given, said Deborah Rose Milavac, a Voices of Faith advisory board member.

Mary McAleese, who has a gay son and has criticized the church’s position on L.G.B.T. issues, was invited to participate in a panel discussion on women in church governance.

Rather than hold the event at the Vatican without the panelists, Voices of Faith decided to change venues and hold the conference outside Vatican territory, down the block at the headquarters of the Jesuit order.

Jesuit Refugee Services, which serves as a partner for the event, said in a statement that it had offered to host the event at the Jesuit curia.

“Jesuit Refugee Service has been a co-sponsor of the Voices of Faith event on International Women’s Day for several years. Discussions about the use of the Jesuit Aula ​(or auditorium) ​began in October 2017 because Casina Pio, the event’s ​regular ​home in the Vatican, would not be available in 2018, and additionally, Voices of Faith had outgrown the Casina. This conversation began before any speakers were invited or confirmed,” the statement says.

“JRS does not necessarily agree with all the views of this year’s participants,” it continues. “Yet we believe that the voices of women across the church need to be heard, and our focus​, in particular,​ is on making sure that the voices of refugee women are part of the conversation.”

Ms. Milavec said that the organization had been considering larger space for the event, but she said organizers took the Vatican’s decision not to approve the full slate of speakers into consideration when they made their decision to move it off Vatican grounds.

“We respect Cardinal Farrell and this is within his purview to make those decisions,” she told America.

But when only eight of the proposed speakers were approved, “the decision was made that we want to uphold the integrity of the mission of VOF and we took it outside.”

Asked about Cardinal Farrell’s intervention, the Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said: “This is not a Vatican-sponsored event, and given the nature of the topics being discussed, there should not be confusion about that.”

Ms. Milavac said the daylong conference, as it was proposed to Cardinal Farrell, was to have followed the same structure as in previous years, with individual speakers— Catholic women—speaking about the innovative work they’re doing in the field. The following panel discussion was to have been a more inward-looking discussion on the Catholic Church itself and the challenges it is facing in integrating women in its structure and decision-making.

In previous years, Voices of Faith has had some controversial speakers, including Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice lobby Network, which was cited by the Vatican in 2012 for not sufficiently stressing church teaching on abortion.

Ms. McAleese, who was Irish president from 1997-2011, is an outspoken advocate for gay rights and has called for the Vatican not to exclude gay Catholics from the upcoming World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis is expected to attend in Dublin in August and which Cardinal Farrell’s office is organizing.

To help prepare families for the event, organizers for the World Meeting of Families and a Catholic publisher in Ireland created a multimedia program to be used in Ireland’s 1,300 parishes leading up to the event. It is called “Amoris: Let’s Talk Family! Let’s Be Family!”, and it covers topics such as consumerism, evangelization and how Catholics can incorporate spirituality into their family lives.

Within a section of the booklet titled “The Christian Vision for the Family,” which affirms Catholic teaching of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, there is a call for Catholics to recognize other kinds of relationships.

“While the Church upholds the ideal of marriage as a permanent commitment between a man and a woman, other unions exist which provide mutual support to [couples],” reads the document. “Pope Francis encourages us never to exclude but to accompany these couples also, with love, care and support.”

Last month, the Irish Times reported that sections of the booklet about “other unions” and an image that appeared to show a same-sex couple holding hands had been deleted in an updated version. An event spokesperson told the Times that the event remains open to all.

Ms. McAleese has expressed dismay at the new version of the booklet.

This story includes reporting from Michael J. O’Loughlin. It includes updates.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Charlotte Newman
3 years 10 months ago

"...Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s laity office, which for the first time this year was tasked with overseeing the Women’s Day event..." How depressing. Women don't need "overseers."

Nora Bolcon
3 years 10 months ago


Nora Bolcon
3 years 10 months ago

The one thing that makes me happy about this intervention is that it further proves until the priests, bishops and cardinals include equal numbers of women in their numbers - which can only come with equal and same exact ordination for both sexes - we will never have any real justice at all.

There are many groups supposedly seeking equality for women, like Future Church, but then act like we should just ask for a little more fairness - they call it "roles" for women. As I have said before, It is nonsense and harmful, these "roles" are just little cages of lesserness that no men will be restricted within.

Women, and all laity and priests and nuns need to demand equal and same exact ordination and sacraments for our sisters as our brothers and not stop fighting until we have complete equality. We don't need women permanent deacons or any permanent deacons at all. We need women ordained as transitional deacons and allowed to promote to priestly ordination within a year. We need women cardinals immediately and there is nothing currently in our law keeping Pope Francis from creating many female cardinals right away. There are also plenty of women theologians and nuns experienced in running huge operations for the church already so what are we waiting for? There exists no genuine Mercy for those who are kept begging for Justice, and no real Peace without equality, and no authentic Unity without real Peace.

We need to stop playing around with the Gospel Commands to Treat All The Same and we need to stop treating Jesus' Gospel Truth and Commands as niceties and Canon Law as the thing that matters most, especially when they are in direct conflict, as this amounts to the heinous sin of Idolatry. Time to end the hatred and oppression of women in our church and this recent rejection by this Cardinal just adds to the proof of what we need to change and now.

Robert Lewis
3 years 10 months ago

We don't ordain women to the priesthood in the Catholic Church because Christ was a man, and the priest is supposed to "figure" Christ to the faithful. If women can "figure" Christ just as well, that would indicate that there should be a re-definition of the priesthood, and a slightly different understanding of who and what Christ is. That comes in the area of theology called "Christology," and that work must be done before women are ordained. Meanwhile, you are absolutely right that there is no canonical impediment to female cardinals, and they should be appointed right away. The cardinalate is not a sacerdotal position, and, if boy princes and diplomats could be made cardinals--as they have been in the past--women can be, too, so long as, for the present, they recuse themselves from being elected pope or created bishops. Women should have a say in all decision-making within the institutional Church.

Nora Bolcon
3 years 10 months ago

Hi Robert , Again this is just excuses for continued sexism. You need to recognize it brother as it is sinful, your response. Jesus Christ never claimed to come to save men - He came to save Man. This means he encompasses the whole creation of man which must include both male and female to be complete as Genesis teaches us. In fact, we already believe this because if Jesus did not represent all of Man in his role as Messiah and Priest then he could only save men and not women and we already do not teach this. The Church Leadership decided to make a rule that one must be physically alike to Christ to represent him in order to keep women out of leadership roles. This directly breaks the command in every Gospel to love and treat ones neighbors the same as oneself and is therefor a sinful rule.

We have changed many such equally bad and sinful rules in our past, i.e. rules on slavery and our church's ownership of black slaves which was still done less than 200 years ago. In truth, by the standard you and our church gives: the priest must look like the body of the savior, could be construed that only Caucasion men could be priests as Jesus was a Jew and therefore not Black or Asian in the flesh. The law regarding priesthood has only need of one line to be changed in order for women to be allowed to priesthood, and all that comes with it, such as the right to advance to bishop, cardinal and pope. We do not need to re-define Christ. We just need to start to follow what Christ taught us about who he is and what he represents to all of his followers in every Gospel. He never limited women but always welcomed them to same discipleship and teaching and ministry as his male followers. He even made Mary Magdalene the Apostle to the Apostles.

As for ordination it did not exist until hundreds of years after Christ and the Apostles rose so again our definition of Christ should simply be brought back to the Gospel Truth. Men and women acted as priests in the earliest times of the church but they were called presbyters. Both these men and women led churches in their homes and presided over Holy Eucharist. Our ordination practices and therefore priesthood need only change back to the Gospel Truth that all who Christ inhabits thru baptism represent him fully in the flesh, heart, soul and mind. As Jesus tells us The Spirit is Everything and the Flesh is Nothing. Christ's Holy Spirit which is God's Spirit inhabits all who are Christ's disciples and this Holy Spirit has always converted the whole person to Christ not just pieces of the person. We already teach this in our doctrine elsewhere.

Women are done waiting for justice in our church. We will either leave as many already have or will do as I am doing, fight for 100% equality in regards to sacraments that were stripped away from us without cause, and equal respect, prestige and authority as is allotted to our brothers.

Women cardinals don't have equal voice if they can't be elected Pope or made bishops. If Christ represented women in order to save them with his male body then women can represent his role during the Eucharistic Sacrifice on our altars. All this Pope would need to do is ordain a woman to priesthood today and all of this changes. No one can nullify the ordination done by a pope as there is no higher bishop than the pope. He should also decree that because the Gospels all demand we not judge or condemn one another, including one another's flesh, and they also demand we treat all people the same, that all flesh based discrimination should be deemed sin and therefore all rules based on such beliefs disregarded and nullified. Only if a person's handi-cap makes them incapable of performing the tasks required of a form of ministry should a person be allowed kept from that service. If Pope JP II with no grounds in any gospel could write out the nasty order he did regarding keeping women from priesthood then this pope can certainly fix that by offering an order to end that injustice and bias based on what actually is in the gospel expressly spoken by Christ as to how we are to treat all others.

No more excuses brother - none. Change must come now!

Jesse Rickett
3 years 10 months ago


Vincent Gaglione
3 years 10 months ago

The first thought that comes to mind reading this article: Vatican Cardinal pushes women’s conference out of the Vatican and into the “peripheries”(with apologies to the Jesuits for so describing their Refugees Services venue). Of course, given other factors, all this may indeed be much ado about nothing. However, the tensions within the Vatican remain apparent, as they are even in the comments in these pages.

Dan Acosta
3 years 10 months ago

Charlotte Newman, in the Church the word "overseer" does not have the same meaning and implications as slavery in America. the word "bishop" in Greek means "overseer." The word "supervisor" means the same thing. So whether one likes it or not we Catholics have an overseer in our diocese.

John Campbell
3 years 10 months ago

In this same issue, we have the truly beautiful story by Tinamarie Stolz of her experiences during her service year.

Nora Bolcon
3 years 10 months ago

The other thing a bit discomforting about this article is that here we see this same person having a private audience with the Pope when she is President of her country but now that she is no longer a ruler in Ireland she can't be tolerated on Vatican Grounds. Does this mean the Vatican's moral critiques are only for regular folks and rulers can do whatever they want and get a private audience with the current pope? Does this not add up to one group of people being deemed more important than others based on political status alone?

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