Monday, October 22, 2012

Ireland's Mary McAleese Ventures Into Canon Law. Look Out Above

Imagine if this Synod could actually make a decision instead of entertaining each other with inventifacted Utube videos.

 The following excerpt is part of a very interesting interview done by Sara McDonald of ciNews with former Irish President Mary McAleese.  She is now studying Canon Law in Rome.  One of her stated reasons for doing so is that lay Catholics are expected to obey Canon Law while knowing almost nothing about it, and that attempting to find out anything about Canon Law is extremely difficult in Ireland and elsewhere.  The following is about half way through the interview and includes her thoughts on shared decision in making in Catholicism.

......“We have a bright, intelligent, confident and educated public who in the public space, that is outside of the Church, have enormous freedom to debate everything to death.  Ireland must be one of the most open democracies in the world.”

However, she said this freedom to discuss and debate and access information in the public sphere is in increasingly stark contrast to the Church where no such forum for discussion or debate exists.
“Realistically, what we have in the Church is a centralised primatial system of governance, a style of governance which relies on the brain power of one man, the Pope, and whoever is permitted to feed into him.  So he is the author essentially of governance and decisions and we as a lay faithful or indeed as the clerical faithful don’t have much input into those decisions.” (Basicaly we have none unless it comes with lots of Benjamins.)

She added, “We have a system of command and control where we are obliged to respond in obedience to the teachings of the Church and to accept certain things.  I think the issue of obedience is quite difficult due to the erosion of trust in the judgment of those whom we are expected to obey.  That really falls at the feet of the abuse issue,” she explained.

Speaking as the Church marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, Mary McAleese told ciNews that she feels the Council did not drive home sufficiently the way in which the Church was to be governed for the future. (I so totally agree.  This became the loop hole through which the papal reformers undid most of the theological world view underlying the Council.)
“It was very evident at Vatican II that the bishops felt the need for change; that they felt that the college of bishops would be recognised and should be recognised.”  She suggests that Vatican II left, “no roadmap,” as to how collegiality would develop, “apart from a relatively clear wish from the Council that there would be opportunities for much greater collaboration, much greater co-responsibility and a handing over to the Pope to decide how it would develop.”

One of the conclusions of her book, Quo Vadis?  Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law, is that post conciliar collegiality is chaotic.

She told ciNews that she also believes that this chaotic development since Vatican II, “looks more and more like arguing against ever having another Vatican council.”

Discussing the synod of bishops, which was not a creation of Vatican II but a creation of Paul VI, she highlights that it has, “no decision-making powers whatsoever.  The Pope could actually give it decision-making powers but he never has.  The agenda is set effectively by the Pope and the Curia and they don’t take on major controversial issues that are being debated out in the public domain but fairly safe phenomena.” (This is surely seen in the current Synod on Evangelization which is not addressing any of the problems which have precipitated the exodus out of the pews in the west. There has been a lot of babbling about 'secularism' which is so vaguely defined it means whatever Benedict needs it to mean.)

She believes there is scope for developing greater synodality. 
“If the bishops had more input into the decision making, by almost a process of osmosis, they would be obliged to have a much greater input into their own decision-making processes.  Greater collaboration, greater discussion, greater access to the views of laity and clergy, in order to inform the views that they would then bring in turn to the governance of the universal church.”

“But because they have no real direct involvement in the governance of the universal church, we have this logjam right back down the line and the only person who can unlock that logjam is the Pope himself.  He is the only person with the power under the code of canon law to change and to create new structures for co-responsibility and governance.  Vatican II clearly wanted him to do that so that he would co-govern the church with the bishops,” she said.  (Unfortunately we wound up with two popes whose personal experience of governance was totalitarian.)


I set this post up last night, and then decided I personally really needed to know why a former president of a soveriegn state would decide to study Canon Law as a mission.  This is not your average gig for a presidential retiree.  I decided to sleep on it, and low and behold this morning dear Bill Lyndsey provided the reasonThe following is from the Irish Independent article Bill links in his blog post:

 In 1998, she met the now disgraced Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, former Catholic Archbishop of Boston, on an official visit to the US.
According to Ms McAleese, he told her he was "sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President" and went on to insult a junior minister who was accompanying the then president.
"His remarks were utterly inappropriate and unwelcome," Mrs McAleese told the Irish Independent in Rome yesterday, where she was promoting her new book on canon law.
According to Mrs McAleese, Cardinal Law lambasted her and a considerable number of her official delegation after ushering them into a room where a well-known American conservative Catholic, Mary Ann Glendon, was waiting to lecture the President on her views on women priests.
Mrs McAleese said the cardinal's language and attitude were nasty and he demanded that she sit down and listen to the orthodox view on women's ordination from Mrs Glendon.
She said she and her delegation were initially gobsmacked by this "arrogant" man.
However, Mrs McAleese told the cardinal that she was the "President of Ireland and not just of Catholic Ireland".
At this point, a heated argument ensued between the two, according Mrs McAleese. She revealed details of the fractious meeting yesterday as she publicised her new book 'Quo Vadis? Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law'.

The article then goes on to report that McAleese was so incensed she spoke with the Irish hierarchy when she got home, and they too, were 'gobsmacked'.  An invitation they had extended to Cardinal Law to visit Ireland was rescinded. I guess one could see this as just another example of powerful American Irish Catholics attempting to control Ireland, but I don't buy that.   This was Cardinal Law acting from his ecclesiastical position and direct connection with JPII to not just intervene in Irish affairs, but to dress down a high profile female Catholic politician. It's no wonder Mary McAleese has decided to fight fire with fire by studying Canon Law.  As she states in the first linked article, Canon Law is a well kept secret in which laity do have rights and maybe it's time we all got to know them.

Her main point about the lack of power sharing and collegiality is very very important.  One of the biggest roll backs in the 'reform of the reform' has happened not in the Liturgy, but in gutting the power of national bishops conferences, synods of bishops, and the voices of individual bishops in their own dioceses.  This is especially true on issues of discipline and doctrine, and even more true when it comes to the place of women in the Church.  That's why a bishops like Australia's William Morris can be forced out of his diocese, but a bishop like Robert Finn is left in place.  The message this kind of thing sends is the exact same message Cardinal Law gave Mary McAleese, and that message is it matters not how high a woman rises in the secular realm she is still a mindless child in the clerical realm.  Mary Anne Glendon is willing to accept that double standard, Mary McAleese is not.  It sure looks to me like Cardinal Above the Law has created a worthy adversary in the use of Canon Law.  I just have a sneaking suspicion this is a story worth following.


  1. Happy to see you've come back! And I've just purchased Ms. McAleese's book. Simply on the basis of the insult Cardinal Law offers... Was interesting to see the 2 opinions on Amazon's page so clearly reflect the opposing views.

    1. I'm still seriously wondering about Law. Who the hell does he think he is? It's not just that he stomped on the President of Ireland, but he also put his big foot on the Irish hierarchy in that the Irish delegation was their responsibility.

      I too will wind up getting her book just because I think she's on to the major hiccup in the execution of Vatican II.

    2. Law did this before he had to resign in disgrace. He showed no small amount of chutzpah in his attack on Ms. McAleese.

    3. Kathy, as far as the US Catholic Church is concerned Law might have resigned in disgrace, but not as far as the Vatican was concerned. He was promoted to Rome and still wields the same chutzpah, and now he has Burke to ride shotgun. Has to be all about American money and right wing influence.

    4. Colleen, I think you're right. In a more just world, he would be in a monastery somewhere, or convicted like Robert Finn.

    5. Bernie Law just missed a long swim two summers ago. My brother, who would call a spade a f*&$%@% shovel, was on a ferry in Italy. He witnessed an brief unpleasant encounter between two men, one whom he described as "an arrogant bastard" and cleric.

      When the cleric disappeared below decks, escorted by his acolyte, those people who had witnessed the verbal sparring, er yelling match, began to talk. Who was that man? Law? Who's he? If someone had thrown him overboard would he sink or float? What if he was in a sack? Would the captain stop if the man overboard was known to be a Cardinal? How about if the captain knew it was Cardinal Law?

      Apparently Bernie Law had been recognized by someone from Boston who wasn't too happy about his handling of child abuse there and let him know it in no uncertain terms.

      My brother, upon reflection, said he wouldn't have minded throwing Law overboard himself. His wife said no, "You wouldn't", but she's not Irish.


    6. p2p, too bad Jesus wasn't aboard the ferry to hang a millstone around Law's neck, then toss him overboard for everyone else's safety and salvation!

  2. Colleen, You bring up many important issues. But as you say, "bishops like Australia's William Morris can be forced out of his diocese, but a bishop like Robert Finn is left in place," meaning Canon Law is almost meaningless in a monarchy. The pope and hierarchs decide when and if Canon Laws are applicable and when they will be ignored. The abrogation of Canon Law is decided by men appointed by the pope and we know how that goes. Betty Clermont

  3. Canon Law was written by the ontologically engineered few for the benefit of the ontolically engineered few. Do you REALLY think that it was ever designed to protect or benefit the 99%?

    Jim McCrea

  4. Depends on your definition of protecting. If you consider from the point of view of the ontologically engineered few, that the laity only exist to save their own souls and will screw it all up without the ontologically engineered few, Canon Law does protect the laity if only in the minds of the ontologically engineered few.

  5. Canon Law establishes lines of clerical authority over the laity and lists the punishments for those who cross those lines. They may sugar coat it with faux spiritual language, but it is all about control, not spiritual life.

  6. Yes, John. I think you are correct. Cannon law has nothing to do with The Way of LIfe. It is a rather fearful set of rules that has grown to make the structure of the RCC what it is today. One that is more than top heavy but top corrupt. I think it a waste of time for the "simple" People of God to waste any time on it at all. Those who wish to Follow Christ's way must do just that and it means a reform from the bottom. Currently it means to simply ignore all Episcopal proclamations, directives etc. Most of all it means to give these jerks no money. Perhaps, we should also work for taxation of church property and salaries. The time is ripe for change and the poor structure that our leaders are fearful of changing must go for anyone that wishes to engage in the critical thinking of spirituality. May we all understand our need to grow and develop both understanding and the necessary critical thought seen in spirituality. dennis

  7. Just to remind everyone that the Church is more than just Europe and North America;

    Perhaps the Holy Wind is blowing somewhere umexpected.

    1. It's been blowing in Latin American and the Orient for quite awhile, but it's never covered or it's covered under the purposely maligned paradigm of liberation theology, which is intended to demean the validity of the theology and points of view of these bishops.

  8. Colleen, I'm just now catching up after a week away from home, and am amused at the synchronicity between your posting about Mary McAleese and mine--and Jim McCrea also tells us he met Mary McAleese in Rome and had dinner with her.

    I love your title for the posting: look out above. There is no one the men ruling the Catholic church fear more than strong, intelligent, conscientious, faithful women.

    They have much to fear in Mary McAleese.

    1. I agree, when Law tried to take a bite out of Mary McAleese he made a very big mistake. Natural Law tells us that a male of a species who attacks a female protecting her young generally is on the losing end of things.