Vadis': Former Irish
president looks at collegiality, governance
Catholic News Service
DUBLIN (CNS) -- The former president of Ireland said an attitude of "creeping infallibility about everything" is increasingly apparent in the Catholic Church, while collegiality, one of the major aspirations of the Second Vatican Council, "is chaotic" because of the council's failure to articulate clear guidelines on church governance.
Mary McAleese told Catholic News Service in a phone interview that what has emerged since Vatican II is an argument "against ever having another Vatican council."
She said the church's best experts "cannot coherently explain the church's governance structures or their juridic infrastructure" largely because of Vatican II, which "failed to articulate clear guidelines for the future development of conciliar collegiality or church governance at any level." Co-governance by bishops never happened, she said.
The former professor of criminal law at Trinity College Dublin has swapped the elegance of the Irish presidential residence for the lecture halls of Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University to pursue a canon law degree.
Discussing the thesis of her new book Quo Vadis? Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law, she told CNS the church's code "carries inside it all the alleged indecisiveness of Vatican II about how the church would be governed, particularly the idea that the church would be governed in a collegial fashion."
In the conclusion of the book, published by the Dublin-based Columba Press, McAleese wrote: "For those who hoped for greater co-governance of the universal church between the pope and the College of Bishops, it has been a journey of disappointment since the council. On the other side of the equation, the council fathers who worried that 'collegiality' would be a runaway horse that would do untold damage to the primacy of the pope and the unity of the church need not have worried."
In a series of interviews with the Irish media ahead of the launch of her book, McAleese questioned the church's teaching on gay marriage and women priests, while revealing details of her tussles with high-profile prelates, including Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston.
In an interview broadcast Oct. 9 on Irish state television, RTE, McAleese, Irish president from 1997 to 2011, recalled her 1998 meeting with Law while on a state visit to the U.S.
During the meeting, she said, the cardinal criticized her views on women priests and -- in front of government ministers, officials and ambassadors -- told her he she was "a very poor Catholic president." She said she replied that she was "not a Catholic president, but the president of Ireland who happens to be Catholic."
In 1994, Blessed John Paul II said the church has no authority to ordain women, a judgment he said must "be held definitively by all the faithful." In the RTE interview, McAleese suggested that statement came "perilously close to infallibility," and she said she wrote to the pope asking whether the prohibition allowed her to still consider herself a Catholic. Her letter drew a response that urged her to try to accept the church's teaching on the issue.
Considered one of Ireland's most popular and successful presidents, McAleese's two terms in office were praised for the emphasis she placed on bridge-building between Northern Ireland's divided communities. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and in 2010 was ranked the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. She was recently selected to chair a high-level body examining how best to modernize higher education in the European Union.
In relation to the Irish church leadership's mishandling of clerical sexual abuse, she told RTE she believed the church authorities now lacked "a fair degree of credibility" and criticized the length of time they took "about accepting how wrong they were." She told CNS that this had led to an "erosion of trust in the judgment of those whom we are expected to obey."
She referred to two sections of Canon 212 that uphold the right of the faithful to make known to the pastors of the church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires and urges them to give pastors their opinion on matters that pertain to the good of the church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals.
The Irish church's mishandling of abuse was partly due to the fact that the Irish bishops "were regrettably in thrall to a few canon lawyers whose views held sway," McAleese told CNS.
She also was critical of the lack of opportunity for lay people today to become canon lawyers in Ireland, describing it as "utterly remarkable" in view of the impact the church's legal system has had on Irish society and the church.
She was faced with the choice of either studying in Washington or Ottawa or finding somewhere else. She chose to go to Rome. The church "doesn't make it easy for people like me to become literate in canon law" she told CNS, adding "and yet we are expected to obey canon law. It's rather odd."
Her doctorate, which deals with the issue of children in the Code of Canon Law, will take at least another two years to complete and perhaps longer. By travelling to Rome to study children and canon law, McAleese said she was "drilling down to the foundations." She said she hopes in a few years' time "to be able to construct, with the help of colleagues in Ireland and elsewhere, a new way of pedagogically delivering to our children" the means to an age-appropriate legal education.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops