A female cardinal may be the holy grail of radical reformers within the Catholic Church, but speculation that Ireland could produce the world’s first is unlikely to answer their prayers.
That was the view of observers yesterday who watched social media light up with conjecture that Pope Francis might include a woman when he names his next batch of cardinals, probably early next year, and that the woman in question could be Irish.
Two Irish names went into the hat, the front-runner being theologian Linda Hogan, vice-provost of Trinity College Dublin where she is Professor of Ecumenics.
But the speculation, raised most recently in a reflection in the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, written by its former Rome correspondent, Juan Arias, and fuelled by Facebook musings by Fr James Keenan, Professor of Theology at Boston College, seems to be just that.
“Theoretically it is possible for a lay person and a woman to be made a cardinal, but we’re a long way off that,” said one priest of the Dublin Archdiocese who followed the story but asked for anonymity because he didn’t want to “give it light”.
“Pope Francis has other priorities and what can a cardinal do anyway only elect a pope? There are other more fundamental reforms he’s looking at.”
The story, which went global on online news sites yesterday, proved irresistible to members of the Church inspired by Pope Francis’s remarks in an interview in September in which he spoke of the need for a greater role for women.
But while academic discussion has taken place on and off for years about the possibility of appointing female cardinals, no pope has indicated an intention to do so and the Vatican has declined to become involved in the latest speculation.
The other Irish name thrown into the debate among a half dozen high-achieving women from around the world was former president and now student of canon law, Mary McAleese.
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