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Mary McAleese challenged on ‘misogyny’ of Pope St John Paul II

Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and strong advocate for the rights of women in the Catholic Church, has been challenged on her selection of quotations to illustrate the alleged misogyny of the church, and especially of a former pope, the canonised Pope John Paul II.

On Twitter, the Irish Jesuit philosopher Kevin O’Higgins has insisted that the late pope had in fact, as early as 1981, directly rejected the views attributed to him recently by Mrs McAleese.

Following a lecture in Trinity College on Saturday Nov 2nd, 2019 Mrs McAleese had been quoted in two Irish newspapers as having said that in the church women were “deliberately made invisible. Deliberately meant to stay invisible, and structurally the architecture of the church is designed to create and maintain the invisibility and powerlessness of women.”

To illustrate the point she quoted the late pope John Paul II as having written the following about heterosexual love-making:

“It is the very nature of the act that the man plays the active role and takes the initiative while the woman is a comparatively passive partner whose function it is to accept and experience.  For the purpose of the sexual act it is enough for her to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it can even take place without her volition while she is in a state where she has no awareness at all of what is happening – for instance when she is asleep or unconscious.”

According to the Irish Times report, by Patsy McGarry, Mrs McAleese had then said: “that is how we are treated in the church”.

She had gone on to allege, it was reported, that the late Irish theologian, Seán Fagan had asked ‘Can this really be Catholic Church teaching? It sounds like rape.’  Subsequently Fr Fagan had been silenced, she had said, while Pope John Paul had become a saint. “That’s our church.”

Kevin O’Higgins SJ

However, Fr O’Higgins has quoted Pope John Paul II as having written in 1981 as follows, in his book ‘Love and Responsibility‘:

“From the viewpoint of loving another person, from the position of altruism, it must be required that the conjugal act should serve not merely to reach the climax of sexual arousal on one side, i.e., that of a man, but happen in harmony, not at the other person’s expense, but with that person’s involvement. This follows precisely from the position of the principle already thoroughly analyzed, which excludes use and demands love in relation to the person. And love demands in this case that the reactions of the other person, of the partner, be taken fully into consideration.”

(Added on Nov. 6th, 2019) Fr O’Higgins subsequently declared that both passages occurred in the same book, directly after one another – with Mrs McAleese’s chosen excerpt (the first) being simply the pope’s account of what CAN happen in a one-sided way, but clearly not his view of what SHOULD happen in a properly loving relationship (described in the second excerpt).

Fr O’Higgins’s Twitter id is: @kevinohigginssj

A podcast of the Trinity College event on 2nd Sep, 2019 [‘Women the Vatican Couldn’t Silence’], can be found at:

Sean O’Conaill, Nov. 2019