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Mary McAleese wins Europe’s richest theology prize for her study of canon law

By Cian Molloy - 27 August, 2019

The former President of Ireland Mary McAleese has won one of the Catholic world’s most prestigious prizes, the Alfons Auer Ethics Award, from Tübingen University in Germany for her doctoral thesis on “Children’s Rights and Obligations in Canon Law”.

Dr McAleese, who is currently Professor of Children, Religion and Law at the University of Glasgow, completed her thesis while studying canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome.

Her PhD, which runs to some half a million words, is due to be published in book form by Brill, a Dutch international academic publishing house, in November this year.

Brill describe the study as “the first of its kind” in the way that it scrutinises how the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the rules of the earthly Church, applies to children.

The publisher notes that the Catholic Church is “the world’s largest non-governmental organisation involved in the provision of education and care services to children” and that it has more than 300 million child members worldwide, the majority of whom became Church members as a result of their baptism as infants.

The Holy See is a state party to the 1983 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Dr McAleese’s thesis looks at the impact of that convention on canon law. In its publicity material, Brill says that Ms McAleese’s analysis “charts a distinct and worrying sea-change in the attitude of the Holy See to its obligations under the Convention since the clerical sex abuse scandals became a subject of discussion at the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the Convention”.

The award granted to her by Tübingen University was established in 2015, is awarded once every 2 years and is worth €25,000. The Alfons Auer Ethics Award is named after the university’s former Professor of Moral Theology, who held the post during a golden era in the history of the university’s theology department. Also on the academic staff at that time were Hans Küng as its Professor of Ecumenical Theology and Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was its Professor of Dogmatic Theology.

Dr McAleese will receive the award on Wednesday 30 October and the commendation honouring her will be given by Dr Hille Haker, Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola University, Chicago.

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