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O’Loan seeks equality in Church’s decision-making

By Sarah Mac Donald - 15 October, 2014

Nuala O'LoanIrish peer, Baroness Nuala O’Loan, has called for greater equality in the Church’s decision-making as she criticised the lack of representation of married women and men at the Extraordinary Synod on the family in Rome.

Baroness O’Loan, who is a member of the House of Lords, expressed disappointment that so few couples were invited to participate by the Vatican.

“If the Church is in the process of discussing marriage, it would be useful, even having consulted as it has [through the questionnaire] to at least allow some speaking rights to some of the women as it might usefully inform their deliberations. It just doesn’t seem appropriate in the modern age not to do that”, she said.

As the Synod participants will gather in Rome again next year for the Ordinary General Assembly, the former police ombudsman in Northern Ireland said the Vatican should consider whether it is possible to arrange a process whereby women could make more of a contribution then.

“Women can’t be priests, they can’t be deacons, and they can’t be bishops but they have got useful things to say, and as the conversation develops I do think it would be useful if they were permitted to contribute,” she said.

She underlined that the Synod Fathers “need to think about how they assimilate views and formulate decisions and ask themselves are they able to access the most recent and most informative views they can?”

“They all speak from their own experience which I am sure is splendid – because I don’t in any way denigrate the experience that priests have in working with married couples – I know that that is substantial. But, nevertheless, that is one form of experience and those who live marriage have another form of experience. I think they need to be able to access that.”

In her address to a conference hosted by the Irish Catholic newspaper and Trócaire in Dublin, Baroness O’Loan, in the presence of the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, called on the Church to look at ordaining women as deacons.

Speaking after her address to the Irish Independent she said, “I think we need to start a discussion as to why we can’t do that because that would then take us to a place where we would want to think about how we do it. I think it is an issue that we need to start to talk about soon.”

She predicted that the Church is moving towards permitting married priests and that once this was in place, women deacons would follow next.

Referring to the need for more women to be involved in decision-making roles in the Church, Mrs O’Loan, who is Chair of the governing authority in NUI Maynooth, said the problem lies in the fact that at present, decision-making in the Church is reserved to those who are ordained.

“I think Pope Francis has indicated that it is something that he would probably wish to look at. He does seem to be bringing more women in,” she commented.

She cited the increase in the number of women on the International Theological Commission from two to five and the fact that the Commission for the protection of minors has five women, including Irish survivor of clerical abuse, Marie Collins.

“But if you look for example at the Pontifical Council of Culture, there are no women. That is quite surprising,” she said.

Baroness O’Loan said the reality is that most of the Vatican congregations, councils and universities have no women members on their decision-making boards and she called for the introduction of membership targets for some of these organisations “to focus minds and to address what is a very serious problem of lack of equality.”

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