LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Former Irish president Mary McAleese has been stopped from attending a women’s conference at the Vatican, causing organizers to move the event to another location.
Chantal Götz, managing director of Voices of Faith, says McAleese was not approved by Irish-born American Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.
“Cardinal Farrell sent back to me the list of names who he gave permission (for). Mary McAleese and two others were not on it,” she told the Irish Times. “Unfortunately, unsuccessful efforts were made to have the cardinal change his mind.”
One of those objected to was Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, a Ugandan lesbian Catholic LGBT activist.
Götz told Crux she was “surprised and disappointed” about the decision.
“Under Pope Francis authentic respectful dialogue has made a very positive impact in the life of the Church. We believe this event to be in that spirit,” she said.
Rather than exclude the speakers, organizers moved the event to the Jesuit headquarters just outside of the Vatican.
According to correspondence seen by the Irish Independent newspaper, Farrell objected to McAleese’s vocal support for gay rights, although Götz told Crux, “We do not know why they were rejected.”
A spokesperson for McAleese told Crux the former president has written to the pope on the matter and is currently awaiting a reply, and that she will not be making any further comment at this time.
McAleese recently said the World Meeting of Families scheduled to take place in Dublin this summer should be “open to all,” including LGBT Catholics.
“For example, LGBTI Catholics and their families who in good faith attended the 2015 meeting held in Philadelphia have reported that they experienced traumatizing hostility. Ireland can and hopefully will do better than that,” the former president told the Irish Independent on Jan. 31.
After receiving word Farrell objected to McAleese attending the event, organizers asked her to give the keynote address, which will be called “Time is now for change in the Catholic Church.”
The Voices of Faith meeting has taken place on International Women’s Day (March 8) at the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV – the headquarters of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences – since it began in 2014.
The meetings are described as “story-telling” encounters and aim to allow women from different backgrounds to share their experiences.
Götz told Crux no speaker had ever faced objections from the Vatican before this year.
She said the members of Voices of Faith “fully support” the decision to change the location of the event “to make sure this platform is one where women’s voices can be heard for the good of the Church.”
Voices of Faith is co-sponsored by the Fidel Götz Foundation and according to its website “aims to bring together leaders in the Vatican with the global Catholic community, so they can recognize that women have the expertise, skills and gifts to play a full leadership role in the Church.”
Despite the change in venue, Götz told Crux she hopes Vatican officials still attend the event.
“We have invited them to join us, to hear the witness of women from every walk of life. The women who will speak are faith-filled, courageous, and highly skilled. Listening deeply and respectfully to them will strengthen our Church and help us carry out the work of the Gospel in a more effective way,” she said.
Although Voices of Faith says it has a goal of including diverse opinions, critics have complained the speakers have mostly come from the left-of-center, and not given an adequate voice to conservative Catholic women.
The Vatican objection to McAleese comes just months before Pope Francis is expected to visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, which is taking place Aug. 21-26 in Dublin.
The Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life oversees the event, which is coming as the country is facing some of the strongest challenges to its Catholic identity.
The Republic of Ireland is preparing a referendum on removing its constitutional protection for the unborn in either May or June, just ahead of the pope’s visit.
In 2015, the country voted to approve same-sex marriage in another referendum, a change McAleese supported.