The former Irish President says the Pontiff allowing women to be more involved in mass was “the polar opposite of earth shattering"
Former Irish President Mary McAleese has said a change made to canon law by Pope Francis to allow women to be more involved in Mass is “the polar opposite of earth shattering".
While making the change Pope Francis continued to affirm that women cannot be priests.
Mrs McAleese, herself a devout catholic, said all the new laws will do is right a wrong and that the position of the church hasn’t changed in any real way.
Pope Francis amended the law to formalise and institutionalise what is common practice in many parts of the world: that women can read the Gospel and serve on the altar as Eucharistic ministers.
Previously, such roles were officially reserved to men even though exceptions were made.
Pope Francis said he was making the change to increase recognition of the “precious contribution” women make in the Church, while emphasising that all baptised Catholics have a role to play in the Church’s mission.
But he also noted that doing so further makes a distinction between “ordained” ministries such as the priesthood and diaconate, and ministries open to qualified laity.
The change comes as the Pope remains under pressure to allow women to be deacons — ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests, such as presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Mrs McAleese, who served as Irish President from 1997 until 2011, has been critical of the Catholic Church in the past, particularly over the role played by women and its views on LGBT issues.
“The change to canon law made by Pope Francis is the polar opposite of earth shattering,” she said.
“It is minimal but welcome all the same for it is at last an acknowledgement that it was wrong of Pope Paul VI to ban women from the stable lay roles of lector and acolyte which remarkably he did after the Second Vatican Council.”
She said the law as it stood had always been “untenable”.
“These two roles were opened only to laymen simply and solely because of embedded misogyny at the heart of the Holy See which continues today,” said Mrs McAleese.
“The law as it stood until Pope Francis’ change was always untenable, unjust and ludicrous given that in many parishes women have been informally reading the scriptures and acting as altar servers despite the laws.”
Mrs McAleese previously hit out at the Catholic Church, calling it an “empire of misogyny”, comments made ahead of a conference in Rome about women’s roles in the Church when she also raised the ban on women becoming priests.
“Pope Francis has said that the issue of women’s ordination isn’t up for discussion, that women are permanently excluded from priesthood,” she has previously stated.
“I believe that women should be ordained, I believe the theology on which that is based is pure codology. I’m not even going to be bothered arguing it. Sooner or later it’ll fall apart, fall asunder under its own dead weight.”
McAleese said she wished to “pose a much more profound question” instead.
“If you are going to exclude women in perpetuity from priesthood and if all decision-making, discernment and policy-making in the Church is going to continue to be filtered through the male priesthood, tell me how in justice and charity, but most importantly in equality, are you going to include the voices of women in the formation of the Catholic faith?” she said at the time.
The former President of Ireland was barred by the Vatican from taking part in an International Women’s Day conference which was due to take place in Rome in March 2018.
That event was organised by the Voices of Faith group, which is seeking to “empower and advocate for Catholic women to have a seat at the table of decision making in the Catholic Church”.
Belfast-born McAleese, now Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin and a Professor of Children, Law and Religion at Glasgow University, has been a long time supporter of LGBT rights. Her son Justin McAleese, who is gay, was a high-profile campaigner during the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum.
She has often spoken publicly about frustrations with the Church over its stringent views on LGBT people.