Ireland’s former President, Mary McAleese, is no stranger to controversy. This time, however, it’s not of the political sort—which is to be expected—but of the ecclesial sort. Insofar as Mrs. McAleese is concerned, the Church is in denial concerning homosexuality which, she said, is “not so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants.”
As a “Visiting Scholar” at Boston College last fall, McAleese provided a hint of her mounting frustration with Church teaching concerning homosexuality and the contradiction that she sees evidencing itself in the clerical pedophilia scandal. In a November 2013 interview with the Boston College Chronicle, McAleese explained that she is pursuing a doctoral degree in canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome to develop “some helpful insight into how this unhappy situation came about.”
…I decided to make it my business to study canon law, something very few laypeople have done. And what I’m most interested in is, how is it that we’ve arrived at a situation in the Church where the increasingly educated laity feels more and more excluded from the discourse that is necessary to run an organization this big and this advanced? And how can we now trust the judgment of the people we’ve learned, to our cost, cannot be trusted in matters of children and abusive priests? Why should they continue to make decisions for the 1.2 billion of us on the same terms as before?
I think that we are entitled to that critical faculty, which is given to us by the Holy Spirit, in the light of what we now know; the false deference, the unadulterated trust—these things were and still are phenomenally dangerous. We need accountability, we need openness, we need rigor, we need to address the people who have decision-making power over us, to show us those decisions are made in our best interests, and crucially, in the light of the best information available.
In an interview with Glasgow’s Herald newspaper published January 07, 2014, McAleese expounded upon those thoughts:
Things written by Benedict, for example, were completely contradictory to modern science and to modern understanding, and to the understanding of most Catholics nowadays in relation to homosexuality.
Nowadays, it is not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual conduct is not seen as evil….
I don’t like my Church’s attitude to gay people. I don’t like “love the sinner, hate the sin.” If you are the so-called sinner, who likes to be called that? We also know that within the priesthood a very large number of priests are gay.
McAleese also drew a comparison with the Church’s attitude to Jews: “It took almost two millennia formally to revise the ‘Christ-killer’ slander which had been repeated down the decades.”
McAleese is particularly chagrined by Cardinal Keith O’Brien who resigned after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct during his ecclesial career. Of O’Brien, McAleese said:
I would have thought Cardinal Keith O’Brien, in telling the story of his life—if he was willing to do that—could have been of great assistance to gay people, not just in the Church but elsewhere, who felt over many, many years constrained to pretend to be heterosexual while at the same time acting a different life.
Instead, McAleese believes, O’Brien had hoped to divert attention from himself by raising his voice “in the most homophobic way.”
So, Mrs. McAleese has embarked on a personal mission to cleanse the Church of its attitude and conduct. She said:
I can’t walk away from the Church, my spiritual home, just like I couldn’t walk away from Northern Ireland, my birthplace. I had to hang in there and see if I could make some sort of contribution. I don’t flatter myself that I’ll be able to do anything in my lifetime, but I also believe that if I don’t help plant the seed, then nothing new will grow.
Mrs. McAleese’s opinions, while generating controversy, happen to be identical to those held by many U.S. Catholics, and especially young adult Catholics. Consider the 2011 Pew Center study’s findings:
- 32% of U.S. Catholics have left the Church.
- 48% who are now unaffiliated left Catholicism before reaching age 18. An additional 30% left the Catholic Church as young adults between ages 18 and 23. Only 21% who are now unaffiliated and 34% who are now Protestant departed after turning age 24. Among those who left the Catholic Church as minors, most say it was their own decision rather than their parents’ decision.
- Among those who were raised Catholic, both former Catholics and those who have remained Catholic, report similar levels of childhood attendance at religious education classes and Catholic youth group participation. Additionally,16% of lifelong Catholics say they attended Catholic high school, somewhat higher than among former Catholics who have become Protestant (16%) but roughly similar to former Catholics who have become unaffiliated (20%).
- At least 75% of those raised Catholic attended Mass at least once a week as children, including those who later left the Catholic Church. But those who have become unaffiliated exhibit a sharp decline in worship service attendance through their lifetime: 74% attended regularly as children, 44% did so as teens and only 2% do so as adults.
- 71% of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated gradually drifted away from Catholicism, as did 54% of those who have left Catholicism for Protestantism.
- 65% of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated stopped believing in Catholicism’s teachings overall, 56% are dissatisfied with Catholic teaching about abortion and homosexuality, and 48% cite dissatisfaction with church teaching about birth control. These reasons are cited less commonly by former Catholics who have become Protestant; 50% stopped believing in Catholicism’s teachings, 23% say they differed with the Catholic Church on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and 16% say they were unhappy with Catholic teachings on birth control.
In Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell reports:
- 10% of all adults in America are ex-Catholics (p. 25).
- 79% of those who have dropped the name “Catholic” and claim no religious affliation of any kind, have done so by age 23 (p. 33).
- In the early 21st century, among Americans raised Catholic, becoming Protestant is the best guarantee of stable church attendance as an adult (p. 35).
Unlike Mrs. McAleese, young adult Catholics who are disaffected with Church teaching are leaving the Church.
Not that the loss of anyone to the Church is good, this discussion raises the question concerning who’s being more honest. Is it Mrs. McAleese or all of those young adult Catholics?
To read the Glasgow Herald interview, click on the following link:
To read about disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien, click on the following link:
To read the Pew Center study, click on the following link:
To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, click on the following link: