Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Josepha Madigan
Click on any image for a larger version

This might as well have been the headline when, on 28 June 2018, Josepha, who is a member of the Mount Merrion Parish Team, stepped up to the plate and took a prayer service when the priest failed to turn up to say mass.

Much of the media could not resist the temptation and had her saying mass, even if they did put it in quotes. The backlash was immediate from fundamentalist Roman Catholics and even Archbishop Martin was critical. But it was FAKE NEWS.

The fact that Josepha is an advocate of women's ordination to the RC priesthood only added spice to the story. Of course she is also the Culture Minister in the current Irish Government but that should really have nothing to do with her acts or opinions as a private individual and a Roman Catholic woman of faith.

It was in this latter capacity that the progressive Roman Catholic organisation We Are Church - Ireland (WAC) invited her to address them at one of their monthly meetings.

So far so good. But Josepha was also her party, Fine Gael's, coordinator in the recent referendum on removing the Constitutional ban on abortion. Now, abortion is a very sensitive issue. The Roman Catholic Church's view on it is clear - it is a grave sin. Full stop. However, the people of God have more nuanced views on the matter and the referendum was carried by 64.5% of voters.

Anyway, the WAC meeting was to be held in the organisation's usual venue, the Mercy International Centre run by the Mercy Nuns. Following threats of protests and intimidation of a staff member, the nuns withdrew the meeting room and WAC had to find an alternative which turned out to be the Stillorgan Talbot Hotel.

The photo above shows the room about an hour before the meeting. I had intended going to the original meeting but now felt an additional obligation to show some solidarity with the organisers.

It was not clear whether the protesters would be satisfied to have bounced the meeting out of a religious and into a secular location, or whether they would turn up at the hotel in their busloads and attempt to disrupt the meeting. So there was an element of tension in the air.

I gather that a few protestor did turn up outside and, had I known at the time, I'd have gone out and taken a photo.

Colm Holmes

But back to the main event. Colm welcomed the attendance and reminded them that WAC meetings start with a prayer.

Nieves Fernandez

Nieves read a prayer which, as far as I recollect, celebrated the harnessing of nature to the spiritual life. I'm sure she'll correct me if I'm wrong. One of the problems in taking photos at these events is that you can actually lose the thread of what's going on while concentrating on the photo. [Just found it online]

Following the prayer, Colm gave the floor to Ursula Halligan who was to guide us through the evening.

Ursula Halligan

Ursula is a veteran and she didn't waste any time calling on Josepha to speak to her motion, which was "Why the Catholic Church should open all ministries to Women".

Now I'm not going to paraphrase what Josepha said. You can read her text here or on the WAC site, though the text there is quite small, or on Josepha's own website.

Instead I'll just include a few extracts which struck me as particularly relevant. You'll see from the full text that she touched all the required bases in the course of her talk.

On the rubbish about her having said mass:
This is of course, not the case at all. Although I opened the prayers it was the three of us women together who shared the elements of the mass that we could still perform as lay people. It would have been a terrible shame after making the effort to attend mass that the congregation then had to return home with no instruction whatsoever. We only did what many other women and indeed men are doing around Ireland. Our involvement was a reminder of the role of women in Church Ministry in general. I received letters, cards and emails from all around the country from Clare Island to Dublin where more women but some men told me of their daily, weekly and monthly involvement in assisting in their local parish church. The Church calls for us all to break bread together at Mass, and women are playing a role in Ministry and the liturgy at several levels across the country and the world. In my view, as a Catholic, it should not come a source of surprise to see a woman on the altar including in the priesthood itself.

On the nature of a priestly vocation:
In his [Bishop Crowley's] view no one has a right to priesthood; We respond to His summons, a summons which the Church has then to discern in the light of the kind of leadership he modelled. I would agree with Bishop Crowley that it is indeed a calling from God that will set one on a path to the priesthood. It is then up to the Church to discern the suitability or otherwise of that person. But what happens if the person receiving the calling to the priesthood is a woman? Do we really believe that God would discriminate against her (assuming she fulfils all the other criteria) as the Catholic Church does purely based on her gender?
The role of women in the priesthood is still considered a taboo topic at the highest levels of Catholic Church. What is the church afraid of?

The capacity in which she is speaking at this event:
I do not speak as a theologian, or a canon lawyer, or even a priest – for I do not claim to be any of those things. I speak as a member of the Church community, one of millions around the world.
For me, and I am sure for many others, faith is closely connected to very personal aspects of my life – my childhood, my family, important memories of my life to date. I believe faith should be active not passive. Faith is best served by clearly participating in life in order to make it better for not just ourselves but for others. I try to live by that code every day of my life in everything that I do. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.

On a vision of an inclusive church in the real world:
Just like all community life, Catholicism is shaped by unity in diversity. Catholics come in all shapes and sizes - there is no one size fits all. I think any church worth its salt should be big enough to provide a shared pew for the gay couple, the Opus Dei man, the divorced and the newly married couple, the single parent and the large traditional family. We are all the many faces of Catholicism as it is lived, rather than imagined. We don’t need an exclusively right-wing or left-wing Church. We need one that is focused on living the faith and working for social justice every day. As it stands I feel many are airbrushed out of this picture. The Catholic Church has a blind spot when it comes to the real inclusion of the marginalised or the stigmatised. The deeds of the Church speak volumes. Words are not enough. Should Church dogma not reflect the actual reality of its people? Include rather than exclude? Tolerate rather than discriminate? This utopian world that the Church wishes to reflect does not in fact exist. In fact it never did but its only now in the twenty first century that many have found the courage to proclaim who they really are out loud. They have found a way to extricate themselves from a dense smog of shame into the light of truth.

And the crunch:
I want you to imagine a church fit for our daughters, as well as our sons.
Should women be deacons, on committees at the Vatican where they have been excluded or under represented? Should women be present, speaking and voting at a synod? Should women be priests? Should women around the world be properly recognized for holding parish life and religious family and community life together?
I firmly believe that the answer is yes.
I am a daughter, I am a wife, I am a mother. I am a woman. And I can tell you now that if we want a church that is fit for our daughters, hearts and minds need to change. Women are waiting. Women are watching. But if we want our daughters to be there in future generations, we need to open the Church fully to them, as fully equal members in the community of faith.

Ursula then threw the meeting open to the floor. But first there were some ground rules. Questions only and no speeches. Questioners were asked to stay strictly on topic. Other subjects were for other times and other places. This was a clear instruction to leave Josepha's role in politics and in particular in the abortion referendum to one side.

I think this was essential or we would have got bogged down from the word go in that controversy to the detriment of the topic in hand. There were two attempts later on by participants to flout the rules, one referring to the abortion elephant in the room and the other accusing Fine Gael of secularising the country and destroying our heritage.

Ursula dealt with these firmly and courteously.

I have been at a number of events recently where I had wanted to participate in the Q&A but did not succeed, whether by raising my hand too late in the proceedings or just looking like an irrelevant old fogey. So this time I got in first.

I suggested that Josepha should feel honoured by the attempts to no-platform her as she had good precedents in Charles Davis and Gregory Baum who had been no-platformed in my day by no less a dignitary than John Charles McQuaid himself. I also drew attention to the ancient monastic settlement of Cill Iníon Léinín in the heart of Killiney which was reputed to have been exclusively female.

Now, these were not questions but I got away with it.

The Q&A proved quite lively. Questions included: when did Josepha become aware of the male-dominated nature of the church, and, what was her reply to the view that as Jesus was a man surely there should only be male priests?

The male-dominated consciousness seems to have come very late in life, in fact only quite recently, if I understood her reply correctly. She mentioned the Pope's visit, and her privileged vantage point in the Phoenix Park as a Government Minister, when she saw these rows and rows of priests in front of her, all male.

On the Jesus was a man theme, she recalled that Mary Magdalene was known as the Apostle of the Apostles and that there were women priests in the earlier years of the church.

John Farrelly

John, from the WAC Core Group, summed up and made a presentation to Josepha.

I can reveal exclusively that this was a painting of "The Last Supper" by Polish artist Bohdan Piasecki (1998). It includes 6 women and 2 children at the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. According to WAC, "it is historically more accurate than Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous 'Last Supper' which is great art but terrible history".

This is it and you can purchase copies from the WAC website shop.

Soline Humbert

WAC meetings also end with a prayer and Soline gave us a text from Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth century polymath abbess, long recognised as a saint and in 2012 named a Doctor of the Church.

You can read some mainstream media coverage of the event in the Irish Independent, Irish Times or RTÉ. There was also a short item on the RTÉ TV Nine O'Clock News on the night.

I have only attended one previous WAC talk and that was by Gabriel Daly. He was most impressive. You can see my post on it here.

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