Female priests are not the silver bullet

Female priests are not the silver bullet Saoirse Ronan

It seems to me regrettable that the general discussions around the points that Mary McAleese makes in her critique of the Catholic church often seem so insular. Seldom are there any references to other faith traditions – on the question of ordaining women – be it Judaism and Islam, Eastern Orthodox Christianity or Anglicanism and Lutheranism, as well as other forms of Protestant nonconformism such as the Methodists. It is all intensely focused on the Catholic church and the Vatican.

Granted, that’s where Mrs McAleese’s focus wants to be  – she made it clear in her interview with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 that she would never leave the Catholic Church, and remains embedded in it. Nevertheless, when a policy of change is advocated, it is instructive to research the track record of those who have introduced such a change.

Personally, I am completely open to the question of whether women may be ordained (and I have a female friend in the Anglican Church who is going forward for ordination).

I wouldn’t argue with Mary McAleese on grounds of theology: she is a canon lawyer and I am not.  But I do observe the experience of other faith traditions, and the ordination of women has done little to halt the decline of the Church of England, while poor old Methodism – once such a force from Wesley’s great preaching tradition – has more or less collapsed. So sad to see the Methodist chapels in Wales and Yorkshire one by one being turned into night-clubs, gyms, or second homes for hipsters.


In the Nordic countries Lutheranism has seen a dramatic decline over the past 50 years. Church links with the monarchies of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which are Lutheran institutions, help to keep the show on the road and maintain a sense of a national tradition, but very few Scandinavians now go to church.

Sweden and the Swedish church does indeed have full equality between men and women, and in regard to LGBT rights (which Mary McAleese has praised). Currently, the Archbishop of Stockholm, Eva Brune, is the first openly lesbian bishop in the world, and she lives in a registered same-sex partnership. I see from the Continental monarchist magazines that she is conscientious about baptising the newborn sprogs appearing regularly within the Swedish royal family, surrounded by dynastic brilliance and ecclesiastical pomp.

Nobody is saying Archbishop Brune isn’t doing a good job. But the churches are often forlorn just the same, and without the Nordic monarchies Scandinavian Lutheranism might have disappeared altogether.

As I have said before, I believe that Mary McAleese should have been permitted to speak at the Vatican. Every aspect of these questions should be discussed. But the discussions should surely also examine the attitudes and values of other churches and faith traditions, and how things have worked out for them. Christianity is all in favour of examining outcomes, as it says in the Gospel: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”


Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan may not have won an Oscar for her role in Lady Bird, but she will, surely, have many opportunities in future years to attain that prize.

It’s a charming coming-of-age movie, and Saoirse herself is delightful as the eponymous Lady Bird. It also provides a surprisingly positive portrait of Catholic education in California – the school has a warm, brainy and encouraging ambience. And the nuns have a sense of humour. Lady Bird is a rebellious teenager who doesn’t take a reverential view of her school’s ethics, but that’s all par for the course.

In the current climate, you begin to wonder if Hollywood didn’t quite like the movie because the portrayal of Catholic education was so positive.




I mentioned last week that I had written to Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop of the National Women’s Council of Ireland suggesting that the NWCI might be more inclusive towards women who do not support their stance on abortion rights, and that I had had no reply. Soon after we went to press, I received a response from Ms O’Malley-Dunlop, outlining in some detail their mandate, which she says represents more than 180 member groups. The NWCI classifies abortion rights under ‘health care’.

You hear women say “I must take care of my health and get a breast check” or “I must look after my health and get a cervical smear”. I have never heard anybody say “I must take care of my health and make sure I have an abortion”.

If abortion were ‘healthcare’ Russian and Bulgarian women would be the healthiest in Europe, as they have the most abortions. But they have some of the worst health.

The NWCI is entitled to follow its mandate, now explained to me, about supporting abortion rights. But calling it ‘health care’ is surely misleading, if not mendacious.