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.