Speaking in Rome today, Dr Mary McAleese condemned the Roman Catholic Church as a “primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny” and as “a male bastion of patronising platitudes to which Pope Francis has added his own quota”. The conference to mark International Women’s Day at which she spoke had formerly been held in the Vatican, but was moved outside of the papal jurisdiction after objections from right-wing cardinal Kevin O’Farrell that the speakers included gay rights campaigners.
Dr McAleese is one of the most intellectually able politicians of recent times, it is baffling she still feels the church is an appropriate place for women. It is not just the church that is misogynistic, it is the writings and the doctrines upon which the church rests. To read the pages of Scripture is to read a tale of male dominance, of female subjugation. It is to read a history of violence, invasion and exploitation. It is to read of religious leaders sanctioning war, conquest, slavery and discrimination. Why would anyone who reads of such a religion expect anything other than misogyny?
Perhaps the early church was radically different, perhaps a culture of non-violence and equality existed, what is clear, though, is that as soon as the church became an arm of imperial rule in 313 CE, it was only going to go in one direction; the rule of rich, powerful and aggressive men would become pervasive. The medieval church, in its hideously corrupt excess, was a logical consequence of a church becoming an imperial religion.
The church has never repented of its past, it has never offered to abandon the ways of oppressive patriarchy, and it has certainly never offered to sacrifice any of the extraordinary wealth it possesses. It it not naive to go to Rome, to the opulence and the excess of the Vatican, and to complain that it is discriminatory? Discrimination, dominance, oppression, coercion, power, these are at the very heart of the institution.
A logical stance for a feminist would be outside the church, it would be to call for an end to the role of an anachronistic and abusive institution in spheres of public life and for its confinement to private and voluntary activities. To exclude the church from influence and power would be good for women, paradoxically, it would also be good for the church. A church deprived of hierarchy and prestige, a church that could no longer exert control over the lives of others, would be a church unattractive to coercive men. It would be a church closer to that radical group of those early centuries, it might even resemble something Jesus of Nazareth would have joined.