Organisers of the Voices of Faith conference in Rome, which Cardinal Kevin Farrell attempted to bar former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese from addressing, have said they are still waiting to hear back from Pope Francis as to whether he will take up their invitation to be their guest of honour.
This year’s conference, themed ‘Why Women Matter’, was to have been held in the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV in the Vatican on International Women’s Day (8th March).
But the venue was changed following Cardinal Farrell’s opposition to Dr McAleese as well as Ugandan LGBT rights advocate Ssenfuka Joanita Warry.
Executive director of Voices of Faith, Chantal Götz, told The Tablet that so far, she has not had any response from Pope Francis “nor from any cardinal” that the organisation invited.
“We hope Pope Francis and other cardinals and bishops will join us. As Pope Francis has expressed so beautifully in his letter in preparation for the October 2018 synod, ‘The Catholic Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.’”
In a statement, Ms Götz responded to Cardinal Farrell’s opposition to the three speakers, describing it as “disappointing to realise on International Women’s Day of all days, these women who have accomplished so much in their communities, could be turned away from respectfully sharing their stories and experiences as Catholics.”
She added: “This event allows us to not only celebrate the wonderful work Catholic women are doing across the globe, but also create discussion and dialogue on the current power and leadership structures of our Church today.”
Other conference speakers include American journalist Nicole Sotelo and Jesuit Fr Luke Hansen. They will address the need to broaden leadership within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church or risk losing the current generation of women and girls.
“If the Catholic Church is to remain relevant in the lives of its people, we must find ways to incorporate the faith and gifts of women into positions of authority and decision making at all levels of governance,” Chantal Go¨tz warned.
Among those who will attend the conference, but won’t address it, is Irish clerical abuse survivor, Marie Collins, who resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on 1 March 2017 in protest over the curial resistance to its proposed reforms.
A new addition to this year’s event is a live-broadcast from Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi, where educational opportunities are provided by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), a long-time partner of Voices of Faith.
According to VoF, despite the reality of their displacement, these refugee women are now becoming powerful agents of change in their communities thanks to education.
A video promoting the VoF conference warns that “Women are systematically overlooked for roles in the Catholic Church that they are qualified for, simply because of their gender” and that “voices of capable and devout women” are “being ignored for the comfort of old ways”.
But in the 21st century, the video observes, “women are raising their voices and being heard. The culture that endorses their silence is being eroded. Silence is no longer an option, the time for change is now.”