Incoming Trinity Chancellor should ‘check sources’
Former President Mary McAleese has been accused of misrepresenting Pope John Paul II by giving the mistaken impression that he was a misogynist who justified rape.
Speaking recently at Trinity College Dublin, the former President read from a section of a 1960 book by then Bishop Karol Wojtyla which appears to argue that sex is permissible even when a woman is unconscious. Mrs McAleese – the incoming TCD Chancellor – told the 200-strong crowd: “that is how we [women] are treated in the Church”.
However, it has emerged that in the book that Mrs McAleese is referring to, Love and Responsibility, the future Pope actually quotes this reductionist vision of human sexuality only to critique it and condemn it rather than endorse it.
Dr Catherine Kavanagh, a philosopher at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick told The Irish Catholic this week that it was “very disappointing to see a scholar of Prof. McAleese’s calibre misrepresent the thought of the then Prof. Karol Wojtyla”.
Dr Kavanagh pointed out that the Pope “described a purely biological fact of sexual intercourse, before going on to reject it completely as a paradigm of human sexuality”.
“This is almost as though one were to accuse an historian of World War II of Nazi sympathies, because such a scholar begins with an account of the problems in post-World War I Germany that contributed to the rise of Nazism,” Dr Kavanagh argued.
Context is all
Prominent Catholic and human rights activist Baroness Nuala O’Loan was also sharply critical of Prof McAleese’s intervention. Baroness O’Loan told this newspaper that “we have a duty not to quote anybody out of context so as to give an interpretation which is not justified.
“St John Paul was not perfect but his whole life, and the way in which he interacted with people over the decades, shows that he was a deeply caring man,” Baroness O’Loan said.
Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said that Mrs McAleese has an added responsibility given her position as a former president to “play a unifying role”.
According to Senator Mullen, “some of her recent pronouncements on Church matters have shown bias. But this latest attack on the memory of Pope John Paul II presents a new problem: by completely reversing the context and meaning of the late Pope’s words Mrs McAleese has contributed to an ugly distortion of public opinion.
“Her comments may have been the result of a mistake in her reading of the late Pope’s work, in which case a published clarification should follow,” according to Mr Mullen. However, he insisted that “if there is no acknowledgement of the error, then we’re dealing with someone who it could be opined no longer wishes to distinguish between fact and fiction.
“Clearly the media must avoid colluding in the dissemination of ‘fake news’ from any source. Precisely because of the trust Mrs McAleese holds, if there is no clarification on this matter, then her comments can no longer be regarded as factual without further verification,” he said.
Dr Kevin O’Higgins SJ, a theologian based in Dublin, said that Mrs McAleese was quoting where John Paul II was describing a pure biological fact but “in the very next paragraph, he gives his own view, the Catholic view, the view of any sane person that sexual relations demand consent from both parties”.
He said that Mrs McAleese had “completely distorted” what the Pope was saying. “What I would do if I was talking to her is I’d present her with the complete text and especially with the sequence. I’d ask Mrs McAleese ‘why didn’t you quote that as well, because clearly that is where he is presenting his view?’.
“As a result of this, some people are now even alleging that the former Pope was justifying rape. This is certainly not the case,” Dr O’Higgins told The Irish Catholic.
Dr Kavanagh questioned how the misrepresentation could’ve occurred. “Whether Prof. McAleese simply has not read all of Love and Responsibility, or whether she drew that highly misleading quotation from another source, I do not know, but in any case, it is disappointing that she did not take the trouble to check her sources properly before presenting her paper”.
Fr Vincent Twomey SVD, professor emeritus of moral theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth said that “as a theologian, it is hard to take anyone who says things like this seriously”.