That much-admired broadcaster, Olivia O’Leary, has been telling us how she will celebrate the faith side of Christmas: not attending a ‘Roman Catholic Church’, because she gave all that up two years ago, but at St Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral in Dublin, where the carols are wonderful, and the lessons uplifting, and she can feel her full humanity because the Church of Ireland ordains women.
It was this issue — Rome’s refusal to ordain women — which finally caused Olivia to break with the Faith in which she had been brought up, in which she had beloved aunts as nuns and beloved uncles as priests. And so, although she finds the liturgy of the Catholic Church beautiful, the non-ordination of women means she will never set foot in a Catholic church again
Indeed, she feels as angry about this as she felt in the days when certain wine bars did not serve lone women.
Olivia’s radio essay, on Drivetime last week, reminded me of why I came to feel critical of some aspects of feminist thinking. I adhere to the enlightened side of feminism, but I dislike the strain of pettiness, sectarianism and insularity that characterises some feminist ideas — an inability to see the bigger picture and to analyse issues in an historical, philosophical or inter-cultural context.
Walking away from a faith tradition because it has not ordained women is like stamping your spoilt little foot at a party because they won’t let you sing. As though it’s all about Me! Me! Me!
I listened to Olivia and I thought — grow up, sister! You should be able to understand, in your 60s, that the revolution doesn’t happen overnight. Traditions take time to evolve, and sometimes there are wider contexts to consider.
As it happened, soon after I heard Olivia’s spiel, I went to interview an English cleric who had been a vicar in the Church of England until this year, when he had joined the ordinariate — the space created by Pope Benedict for Anglicans who want to be part of Rome.
There are about 900 Anglicans who have ‘crossed the Tiber’ within this protocol. This priest, Father Christopher Lindlar, said that he could no longer accept the Church of England because ”by ordaining women to the Episcopate, they can no longer claim to be sharing something with the rest of Christendom”.
For him, Canterbury has ”turned down a by-road”, separating itself from the wider Catholic Church, from the many Orthodox Churches of the East, from Copts, Armenians, Syrians and the extended Catholic family.
I do not know what the solution is to the ordination of women: but I do know that it is a question which affects a wide spectrum of Christendom, and it’s just not in the same bracket as standing up at a bar ordering a gin-and-tonic.
There are patriarchal aspects of the Catholic Church which certainly should be addressed: Baroness Nuala O’Loan has said that the Vatican should employ many more women as scholars, thinkers and administrators.
But Catholicism does have, and always has had, a feminine aspect: Olivia may notice, as she gazes around the lovely stones of St Patrick’s Cathedral, that there isn’t a single female saint in sight: no Therese, Bernadette, Joan of Arc, Angela, Rita, Jane of Chantal, no Catherine, no Bridget, no Claire…
I knew Christopher Hitchens — who died last week — since the 1970s in London. He was clever and charming, though he had a cruel streak with practical jokes.
He moved to America in the 1980s, and ceased being a socialist — socialism has rarely been the road to advancement in the US — but found his cause as a campaigning atheist, with his best-seller God is Not Great: The Case Against Religion. The argument omits as much as it includes. You could write a book about any subject — marriage, or money or land — and only recount the dark side. But one side is never the full story.
And he wrote very superficially about the Irish 1995 divorce referendum. Firstly, he got the date wrong — placing the referendum in 1996. His main suggestion about divorce was that Mother Teresa (his bete noire) especially wished to keep unwilling Irish wives chained to drunken husbands. He makes no allusion to property, or other related issues in matrimonial contract.
When Christopher was struck with oesophagel cancer, some unkind people in America suggested it was a punishment from God. This was very wrong. Looking back on the amount of liquor we consumed, and the vast number of cigarettes we smoked in old Fleet Street, we simply risked our health. But I wish him now, the repose of his soul, and I shall remember his charm, loyalty, and the kindness of his brother, Peter.