McAleese Accused of ‘Legalism’ by Liberal Theologian

Sep 17, 2021 | 4 comments

Massimo Faggioli – prominent reformist theologian and prolific commentator on the ongoing push for ‘synodality’ in the church – has strongly criticised former Irish president Mary McAleese’s call for the church to adhere to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a preliminary to ‘walking together’.

Mrs McAleese had called for the immediate application of freedom of speech and equality of rights in the church.  She is a long term critic of the denial of equality to women in the church, especially in regard to priestly ordination.

Calling this a ‘juridical’ proposal that ‘would make the patient even sicker’ Faggioli argues that the foundation of the church is sacramental rather than juridical, and that Mrs McAleese’s proposal would ‘lock the church in a political dynamic’. ‘Surely the Gospel should be sovereign?’

Professor Faggioli has also repeated his criticism of Mrs McAleese’s position on infant baptism, which she repeated in an address to a gathering entitled ‘Root and Branch Synod’ recently in Bristol, England. “I find it a strange way to assert the baptismal dignity as foundational to ecclesial synodality.”

A Vatican-designed questionnaire on lay people’s experience of ‘walking together’ is scheduled to be put to parishioners in all dioceses throughout the church in October 2021.  So far only two Irish Catholic dioceses have experimented with a synodal process – Limerick and Killala. Necessarily they could not unilaterally change existing practice on matters such as ordination.

To read the complete Irish Catholic report of Professor Faggioli’s remarks click here,

Dr Massimo Faggioli is Professor of Historical Theology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.



  1. Edel Fanning

    The Association of Irish Catholics has a Statement of Objectives which seeks freedom of speech “Catholics should have the right to express what they actually think and believe, rather than just what they are expected to believe.”

    In her Keynote Address “NO SYNODALITY WITHOUT FREEDOM OF SPEECH”, to the recent Bristol Root and Branch Lay-Led Synod, Mary McAleese spoke about this right.

    I found it helpful to hear her reference the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when discussing the need for freedom of speech within any synodal process of the Catholic church.

    Long before 2012, when several courageous priests were summarily silenced and forbidden to minister in public by the CDF, because they openly expressed different views from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, as expressed in aspects of Canon Law, I have felt compromised by my membership of the Catholic Church, which has so often violated my sense of natural justice and empathy for our common and diverse humanity.

    I am grateful to Mary McAleese for speaking so often and with such clarity on behalf of those like me, who are hanging on by a thread and don’t wish to acquiesce with or be associated with the homophobia, misogyny, clericalism and other forms of oppression that aspects of Canon law promote and protect in the Catholic Church.

    Yes, I am aware that Mary is strident when speaking in public and she doesn’t soften her words to try to keep people “on board”, what we hear from her is a totally honest expression of frustration and pain and a call for justice for all whose human rights are effectively oppressed by aspects of Canon law.

    Pope Francis came in for some harsh criticism from Dr Mary McAleese’s and yes, it was jolting to hear her deliver such open criticism of a pope whom I have a positive regard for and who sometimes makes disappointing statements along with all his inspiring statements.
    Like many others, I have felt saddened and have tried to account for his disappointing statements by assuming he must be compromised by traditionalists waiting for any opportunity to try him for heresy, if he ventures too far on a road of reform in the Catholic Church.

    It was sad to hear Dr Mary McAleese’s criticism of Pope Francis; sad because she had valid points to make. Also sad because whatever the unknown reasons and pressures that Pope Francis may be skirting around, far too many Catholics who have freedom to speak, despite their discomfort with aspects of Canon law that blatantly conflict with values around human rights that they may uphold in the secular sphere, are still happy to comply and get on with “business as usual” in the Church, as James Carroll, award-winning American author and journalist, pointed out in his address to the Root & Branch Synod.

    Yes of course, we can follow Massimo Faggioli’s advice and look to the Gospel’s (and also to those with a deep understanding of the complex historical context and origins of the Gospels) to support the dismantling of rigid and oppressive manmade Canon laws. I think that this is what Dr Mary McAleese would also wish for. Most of all we need more Catholics to not just get on with business as usual, and even those who have already dissociated themselves from the Catholic Church to join us and participate in an open and honest “walking together” dialogue about hopes and vision for a Church whose doctrines, their values are aligned with.

  2. soconaill

    Good for Gerry, Soline. Our own clerical Taliban have far less conviction and the seminaries are still empty. The rug has been pulled on that closed shop. We are about to see just how many can even rise to the challenge of ‘walking together’ and in these parts so far there is zero interest visible.

    • soconaill

      Addendum: Our PP made synodality the topic of the day on Saturday Oct 9th (vigil mass). Let’s see where it goes next!


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