Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Church wouldn't be in a shambles if women had a real role to play

Fans of irony must have enjoyed the fast-tracking of Cardinal Keith O'Brien's resignation this week, following so quickly on the heels of his actually saying something ground-breakingly sensible.

This is not what we expected from the man who recently described gay marriage as a "grotesque subversion" and same-sex partnerships as being "harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved" – and who is now accused of 'inappropriate behaviour' towards a number of priests.

However last week, just before he was due to fly out to cast his vote in the papal election, O'Brien did make some significant and shrewd remarks. He pointed out that "Jesus didn't say" priests should be celibate, and that "many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood, and felt the need of a companion".

He also said that he would be "very happy" if the Church re-considered this law. Because of course it is only a 900-year-old law, not doctrine, and can thus be changed by the Pope.

I wasn't brought up in the Catholic Church, though many of my family were, and no matter how often the notion of being 'married to God' is explained to me, I still don't get it. A good priest is an intrinsic part of his community, his support and understanding crucial to many people, especially in times of struggle of pain.

But when the source of so much of that pain is familial conflict, break-up or, worst of all, the loss of a child or partner, why does the Church insist that the one person in the neighbourhood who can have no personal understanding of that situation is the priest?

Isn't it also damned strange that an organisation which holds up heterosexual marriage as the ideal social union bans its leaders from experiencing it themselves? One can't help wondering if this is about a general fear of the influence of wives. Did the Vatican start to notice 900 years ago that, regardless of how powerful a man might be, it was often the women who ran the house, influenced the children, and knocked their husbands into shape?

The Vatican has never been very keen on women. Its policy makes St Andrews golf club look like a bunch of woolly old feminists. Despite its veneration of Jesus's mother, its fascistically hierarchical structure makes clear its belief that only men should have power, and indeed, only men should gather in dark rooms with other men to even discuss power. And they in turn should hand a wee bit less power down to more men.

Meanwhile, it's expected that Catholic women around the world will keep ushering their children into church every Sunday, thus ensuring the survival of the great global institution.

We might ask if as many children would have been abused had priesthood been available to men keen to marry and have a family, as most men are. We might wonder if some gay men have been drawn to this celibate profession as a shelter or even a cover for sexual preferences their Church has taught them to be ashamed of.

As for the terrible mistakes the Church has made – the Magdalene laundries for instance, or the banning of contraception – who can say what might have been different had women been handed a smidgen of power in those dark, smoky Vatican saunas... sorry, chambers?

The Vatican really should have a big old think. Maybe start with giving Eve a break and go from there.

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