Wednesday, May 15, 2019


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The occasion was a talk by Mary T Malone on women in the Church (Roman Catholic) right through the Christian period.

Surely we've heard all this stuff before?

Not like this, you haven't.

The talk was one of a regular series organised by We Are Church Ireland at the International Mercy Centre in Baggot St. I've now been at a few of them and, along with the Patrick Finn Lectures in St. Mary's in Haddington Road, they form a rich cultural and spiritual resource.

So what's so different about Mary then? I could say she's blind and in her eighties, that she sometimes misses a beat and the odd word escapes her. But these are just what a Eucharistic theologian would describe as accidentals. It is the substance of her message that terrifies the Church. And this is not the first time a woman, or a group of them, has terrified the Church. But we'll come back to that.

Colm Holmes & Mary T Malone

Colm is making sure that this talk will be preserved for posterity. There was a time when Mary would labour over the draft of a talk, reworking structure and content. But this is no longer really possible now that she is blind and ageing.

The draft of this talk is in her head and there alone. All the more reason to preserve the final product. Also this may be one of her last talks, if not the last. They are getting too stressful and she has already published volumes, including summaries, of her work over a long and productive career.

Her argument starts from a simple premise. The Roman Catholic Church for most of its existence has been a male church.

Surely we already knew this and progressive groups are applying increasing pressure to have women ordained to the priesthood, for example?

Ah, the priesthood. Ordained and separate from the rest of the people of God. Incubated and introduced to the magic circle before being let loose to impose an ancient and unchanging conformity on the faithful (my words, not hers, but that's the gist of it).

It's not just that the Church, here meaning those in authority, is all men, the whole thing is structured in the ways of men. Men are great on structure and externals. Women are more to the heart of the matter, to sharing & compassion, and their exclusion has led to a church whose formal structures, and even language, are built of male DNA.

So there's a lot more needed here than just letting women into the male inner sanctum. What is required is a root and branch re-imagining of the Church, by the Church and for a new church. And here, by church I mean the wider concept embracing all the people of God. So this goes deeper than the current messing about women deacons and priests, though the refusal to admit women hurts and offends.

Mary & Soline Humbert

It seems to me that Mary is questioning the need for any mediation between God and the faithful, though maybe I'm pushing her too far here. Mary was being careful not to be too critical of the male setup and seemed to be taking the line that the boys should be left to play with their toys while the girls came up with something more substantial.

Mediation is power, of course, whether it be the magic of the Eucharist or the discretionary power of the confessional. I'm sure Mary also understands it in these terms but she didn't dwell on that aspect this evening. We had enough to be going on with, and, anyway she was not about Knocking (scuse the pun) the male Church so much as encouraging the female one.

After all, it was women who founded the Church in the first place. Check out Mark's gospel, the more historically oriented of the four. The women had followed Jesus as much as had the men, all along the way. But it was the men who ran away when the crunch came while the women stayed around.

Then in successive ages when the men thought they were sorted, the women came along and scared the pants off them.

There were, a few, women Doctors of the Church. This meant that technically their teachings were on a par with their male counterparts, but nobody paid any attention.

The women mystics spoke directly with God, for all the good that did.

Colm Holmes & Ursula Halligan

Mary spoke of women internalising God.

She referred to the traditional concept of God out there or up there, during which she caught herself waving her arms like someone explaining a barber's pole or a spiral staircase to a person who'd never seen one.

I am very interested in this internal version of God since I encountered the Bishop of Woolwich's Honest to God on my journey to "unbelief" all those years ago.

I'm not going to attempt to cover Mary's stimulating talk in its entirety. I've given you a taster and you can go to the video for the full story.

I will just say that it was stimulating to hear an 80 year old with such progressive views. Lets hope there are enough discerning young ones out there to follow up on them.

As usual, there was a short, well not too short, Q&A after Mary's talk, with Ursula doing the mediation.

I suggested that, with all this scholarly work attempting to beef up women's role in the past, there was a danger of falling into a male trap, from which the Pope himself was not immune. The instruction from the male Church to the women to go find their gender ministering with Christ in the gospels and in his Church thereafter was really a trick, as the women had already been carefully written out of scripture and were hardly anywhere to be seen. On the other hand simply looking around you in today's world would clearly show the folly of attempting to exclude women from any range of activity.

As this wasn't a question, Mary did not attempt to answer it, but I thought I saw her smile.

Mary was bowled a googly on abortion from the audience. She was not to be drawn into condemnation beyond saying that every miscarriage and abortion is a tragedy. But everyone has to make their own decisions and live with the consequences.

When Mary was replying to members of the audience I noticed she was addressing one of the loudspeakers rather than the person. It was an image that made me sad, but that too is only an accidental, and was the only time in the course of Mary's talk that you remembered she was blind. Such was the enthusiasm, authority and polish of her presentation

Ursula Halligan

There was this old custom in days gone by of checking the entrails for telling the future or divining the will of the Gods. That might have been one way of chasing up revelation back in the day. There are others.

I didn't have any tea leaves as I skipped the introductory cuppa in the interest of getting a good seat at this packed session. The nearest I had was perusing afterwards the many photos I had taken in the course of the evening. And I came across this.

Now, I am not an ordained mediator in these matters but, conscious that the wonderful Doris Day has just gone to her eternal reward, I wonder if the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me something here.

Mary, Carole & Keith

So let us take our leave of Mary, in the company of her niece Carole and Carole's husband Keith, and thank her for a wonderfully provocative, entertaining and fruitful evening.

Video of Mary's talk

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing that post. I found it fascinating. I was watching the Daily TV Mass Mission Week lately. That comes out from Canada. I saw some talks by married deacons and found them fascinating. I was wondering why can't women be permanent deacons? That would be great. I liked that answer on abortion. Every abortion and miscarriage is a tragedy and anyone who make a decision to abort has to live with the consequences. It's not judgmental, but perfectly sound. Great post, thanks for sharing it.