Mary McAleese has been attacked for using an out-of-context quote from Saint John Paul II which, on its own, can easily give the impression that he condoned rape. Mrs McAleese and her defenders say her critics are the ones doing the misrepresenting. But there is an easy remedy for them; come out and say they do not believe the late Pope was condoning rape.
She was speaking last Saturday at an event organised by We Are Church Ireland, the Trinity College School of Religion and Voices of Faith.
During a panel discussion about the role of women in the Church, Mrs McAleese said the following:
“If you’ll just bear with me, can I just read a little section from the writings of Pope John Paul II? This is a recent Pope so we’re not talking about the dark ages, we are talking about a recent Pope from his book “Love and Responsibility”. This is his description of marriage, of sex in marriage. It’s a short thing. ‘It is in 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 to 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 in which she has no awareness at all of what is happening – for instance when she is asleep or unconscious.’
She went on: “This is how we are treated in the Church, expected to be asleep unconscious while men get on with doing what they have to do. And here is the sequel to that: when Father Seán Fagan called Pope John Paul out on that and said the obvious, he asked a question, he said can this really be the Catholic church teaching?, he said, it sounds like rape. What happened? Pope John Paul becomes a saint, Seán Fagan becomes silenced. That’s our Church.” (You can watch what she said here. Listen out for members of the audience gasping at what John Paul was imputed by McAleese to mean).
Mrs McAleese did not tell the audience what else John Paul said in that same book in the same section as the above quote (Chapter 5). While he did say it is physically possible for a man to have sex with a sleeping or unconscious woman, he then said this should never happen. On the contrary, he said both husband and wife must be active and equal participants when making love.
For example, in the same chapter he says: “From the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e., the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved. This is implicit in the principle which we have already so thoroughly analysed, and which excludes exploitation of the person, and insists on love. In the present case love demands that the reactions of the other person, the sexual ‘partner’ be fully taken into account”.
Therefore, in no way, shape or form was he condoning rape or anything like it.
After been called out by a number of people including Baroness Nuala O’Loan, she defends herself via a letter in today’s Irish Times. She writes: “It was explicitly stated by me that I was not talking about the sex act at all”.
However, the transcript and the video indicate the opposite. She explicitly says that John Paul in the quoted passage was talking about sex and marriage.
In addition, she quotes the late Fr Sean Fagan who surmised that the late Pope was condoning rape.
Also, We are Church, one of the organisers, approvingly tweeted an article in which the writer also clearly believes Saint John Paul II was condoning rape.
Referring to the quote used by Mary McAleese, the writer says: “This clearly harks back to Aquinas and the male seed being the sole progenitor of life. Or put in more current terms it advocates, or facilitates, behavior for which men are currently being locked up, i.e. rape.”
Moreover, Colm Holmes, spokeperson for We Are Church Ireland, who was Master of Ceremonies at the conference, wrote in the comments section of the blog: “Thanks Pól! Excellent report with added references and analysis.”
We Are Church defended the McAleese comments in a statement on its website. But to repeat what I said at beginning, both Mrs McAleese and We Are Church can easily come out and say that they do not believe John Paul II was condoning rape and they regret such an impression was given. This shouldn’t be such a hard thing to do.