By Elise Harris
Cardinal Kevin Farrell has reportedly barred several speakers set to address an annual women’s event inside the Vatican over concerns about their LGBT positions, prompting organizers to find another venue.
First held in 2014, the “Voices of Faith” (VoF) event has taken place inside the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV, headquarters of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, every March for the past four years.
Established in 2014, the event is scheduled each year to coincide with the March 8 celebration of International Women’s Day, and typically draws speakers from various backgrounds to give testimonies and speak on a specific theme.
Organizers have relocated the 2018 conference, titled “Why Women Matter,” to another location outside Vatican grounds, after two high-profile speakers didn’t meet the Vatican’s approval: Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, and Ssenfuka Juanita Warry, who runs a non-profit advocating for LGBT Catholics in Uganda.
According to Chantal Gotz, founder and managing director of VoF, the list of speakers required approval from Cardinal Farrell before the conference could be planned. When he returned a list of approved names, McAleese and Warry were not included.
Farrell heads the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, the office in charge of organizing the World Meeting of Families this August and the 2019 international World Youth Day in Panama. Given the topic of this year’s Synod of Bishops, which will reflect on “Faith, young people and the discernment of vocation,” Farrell’s office is also a key player in organizing that event.
It is reported that Farrell made the decision because of the proposed speakers’ opposition to Catholic teaching on homosexuality.
According to a Feb. 2 press release from VoF, as the former president of Ireland McAleese “is no stranger to the Vatican, having held the highest position in public office in a predominantly Catholic country.”
“She is known for her staunch support for gay and women’s rights and has often spoken publicly about her frustrations with her Catholic faith.”
McAleese has previously advocated for same-sex marriage, accusing the Catholic Church of “hypocrisy” for its stance on marriage. She has also publicly advocated for the ordination of women to the priesthood, in opposition to the teachings of the Church expressed in Pope St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.
Warry is also an active campaigner on issues related to homosexuality.
Gotz told CNA she was “stunned” by Farrell’s decision, as, she says, similar issues were not raised as a problem in the past.
She said the conference has previously invited speakers who hold opposing views to the Church’s teaching on major issues such as abortion, contraception and women’s ordination. Some of them have spoken openly about their positions during the event.
According to the press release, the purpose of the VoF event is to “empower and advocate for Catholic women to have a seat at the table of decision making in the Catholic Church.”
The conference, Gotz said, “allows us to…create discussion and dialogue on the current power and leadership structures of our Church today.”
Organizers of VoF opted for a change of location rather than adjusting their rostrum of speakers., and the conference will now take place at the Jesuit Curia in Rome.
“The Jesuits, in true form, have welcomed us and our speakers,” Gotz told CNA, explaining that she is unsure if Cardinal Farrell’s decision will affect future VoF events.
Cardinal Farrell could not be reached for comment.
CNA’s Perry West contributed reporting for this story.