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Saturday 23 June 2018
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Commentary

Time for words that matter

JEAN ANTOINE-DUNNE

THE PEOPLE of the Republic of Ireland have voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution. The stage is now set for legislation allowing abortion in what was once one of the most Catholic countries in the world. What has led to this?

Most commentators suggest it is disillusionment with the established churches and in particular the clergy who have been the subject of successive scandals over the past three decades.

There have been incidents of child abuse in institutions run by nuns and by religious brothers; there was the story of the Magdalene Laundries and the film about these laundries where unwed mothers endured a lifetime of servitude because they had given birth to a child out of wedlock.

There was the case of sexual abuse of children by Fr Brendan Smyth that brought down a government and there still remain accusations of cover-up in other instances. The younger generation, we are told, have had enough.

In a recent speech the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, a devout Roman Catholic, remarked in St Peter’s Square in Rome that the Catholic Church has “long since been a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny.”

When asked why she continued to remain a Catholic she replied that she believed in the church. So do I. But the time has come to get rid of the attitudes that have evolved from male-centred misconceptions that determine how women are treated and perceived and that set the agenda for action or lack of it in the world today.

According to McAleese in her speech on March 8 commemorating International Women’s Day, and titled “Why Women Matter,” the church has “no culture of critiquing itself.” These words came after she was banned from speaking at this event at the accustomed place, the Vatican, by its Cardinal Kevin Farrell because of her outspoken views and support of issues such as same-sex marriage.

McAleese also added that the beauty of the church’s teaching was marred (and I would say distorted) over the years by “man-made toxins such as misogyny and homophobia.” This is also the message at the heart of the referendum held in Ireland on May 25.

“Trust women” was the mantra during that referendum campaign and the euphoria accompanying their victory is palpable. We could say that these words could be applied to the churches and religious bodies in Trinidad and Tobago today.

How can any religious leader ban a young educated committed woman from the premises of one of its schools simply because she wears a hijab? How can this happen in a country that utters the words “where every creed and race finds an equal place” at every formal occasion? How can any religious body or group professing religious affiliation treat a woman as someone without responsibility to her students simply because of a sign of her belief? This is, after all, the bottom line.

Today in Trinidad and Tobago women are the objects of continuing violence that suggests a contempt for females and a desire for dominance. The issue of rape and also of physical abuse that leads to the death of a woman at the hands of a drunken man, as occurred recently, should not and cannot be tolerated and should be widely discussed.

The sexual abuse of young children cannot be left unspoken. But yet we waste words and time debating and arguing about the wearing of a hijab in a society where there are people of so many different beliefs, and even in the days leading up to Indian Arrival Day which celebrates that very diversity. The hypocrisy of it all overwhelms me.

It is good sometimes to step away and see ourselves in the context of the wider world.

When we are too close or when we are in embedded in a situation we can become blind even to the obvious. Why waste words when there is so much to speak about in a society that is slowly disintegrating and where even some of our judges show little self-restraint in the public domain.

And where we still mix up loyalty with integrity. The time is now to enact change and to critique our attitudes and the things that we hold sacred.

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