Despair of lay Catholics’ exclusion

irish Times

Lay Catholics’ exclusion from the Church’s decision making processes is leading nowhere good, says Ireland’s former president Mary McAleese.

The Catholic Church is at a critical crossroads in its history. If it fails to choose the right path “it risks an enduring permafrost”, she says.

“Many of us are in growing despair of our Church’s inability to turn a critical spotlight on itself while shining a critical spotlight on the world at large.”

Explaining her concerns about lay Catholics’ exclusion, McAleese references the Church’s “controlling clericalism, its cavalier misogyny, its evil homophobia, its institutional and clerical child sexual and physical abuse, its episcopal cover-ups that protected criminals and ignored victims, its lack of financial transparency and accountability”.

Besides these, she pointed to the Church’s “relentless external advocacy of the right to life of the unborn while hypocritically ignoring the fact that the Church, whose primary mission is salvation, itself teaches that it cannot guarantee a right to eternal life for the 80 million babies annually who die unbaptised through natural miscarriage, abortion and still-birth”.

Added to which was “the social and financial waste caused by the enormous stockpiled portfolio of unsustainable, underused and unused property owned by the Church, the biggest non-governmental owner of private property in the world”, she said.

McAleese says lay Catholics “would like to freely discuss these things and contribute to their resolution in an official standing inclusive forum within the Church for the good of the Church. No such forum exists.”

In her view, Pope Francis’ notion of such a forum or synod which one seemed to favour an “all-inclusive Church debating structure now seems bent on preventing it at worst, micro-managing it into irrelevance at best”.

McAleese’s comments were made in her keynote address to last Friday’s Catholic lay-led Root and Branch Synod in Bristol.

She said it is a “shocking reality” that lay participation in the Church had been “consistently frozen out and episcopal power even more strongly consolidated during the 20th and 21st centuries, the very centuries that have seen the emergence of a massified educated laity and which were supposed to see a wide conciliar embrace of the lay charisms”.

Despite the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, McAleese says the Church continues to teach “that the magisterium [Church teaching authority] has the unchallengeable right to restrict your rights and mine as Church members”.

She says the Church can legitimately do so because personal promises we made at Baptism impose compulsory life-long obligations of Church membership.

McAleese is advocating “to make the case that fictitious baptismal promises made by non-sentient babies … and even actual promises made by adult catechumens can no longer be relied on to justify depriving Church members of their inalienable human rights.”

She told the Root and Branch conference that the man-made consequences of baptism found in canon law were “bolted onto”  the sacrament.

This is “to compel enrolment as life members of the Catholic Church and to impose a once-and-for-all acceptance of the extensive obligations of membership, which the vast majority of us lack the capacity to evaluate until it is too late,” she explained.


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