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Former Irish president McAleese says Catholic Church ‘in denial’ about gay people

Former Irish president says that gay priests in the Catholic Church are ‘not so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants’ in criticizing the church’s approach to homosexuality
Mary McAleese with US President Barack Obama in 2011
Photo by White House Photo Office

Ex-Irish president Mary McAleese has criticized the Catholic Church for being in denial about gay people for decades and called for disgraced Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien to come out as gay and tell his life story.

McAleese told the Royal Society of Edinburgh that there were so many gay priests in the church the issue was ‘not so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants.’

‘I don't like my Church's attitude to gay people,’ McAleese said, according to The Herald Scotland.

‘I don't like “love the sinner, hate the sin.” If you are the so-called sinner, who likes to be called that? We also know that within the priesthood a very large number of priests are gay.’

McAleese also criticized the approach towards gay issues that had been taken by the church under Pope Benedict.

‘Things written by Benedict, for example, were completely contradictory to modern science and to modern understanding, and to the understanding of most Catholics nowadays in relation to homosexuality,’ McAleese said.

‘Nowadays, it is not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual conduct is not seen as evil.’

McAleese said that Cardinal O’Brien, who retired from the church after it was revealed he had a history of sexually harassing young priests, had raised his voice ‘in the most homophobic way’ to distract people from his own sexual orientation but said he could undo that damage by coming out and talking about his life in the church if he wanted to.

‘I would have thought Cardinal Keith O'Brien, in telling the story of his life - if he was willing to do that - could have been of great assistance to gay people, not just in the Church but elsewhere, who felt over many, many years constrained to pretend to be heterosexual while at the same time acting a different life,’ she said.

McAleese’s comments were welcomed back in Ireland by its Association of Catholic Priests.

The association’s Father Tony Flannery said he was ‘very happy’ with McAleese’s speech, saying the ‘percentage of priests who are of homosexual orientation has undoubtedly increased’ over the last decade.

‘Some of my best friends in the priesthood are homosexual,’ Flannery told The Irish Times.

Flannery said the church’s teachings on homosexuality were ‘in serious need of reform.’

‘When a certain approach to [a] moral issue is clearly out of tune with the Catholic faithful I think it has to be rethought. In a good few areas of Catholic sexual morality I think we are in that area now.’

Flannery said he believed there was more ‘openness and freedom’ under Pope Francis I and noted that church doctrine on a range of issues had changed over the centuries.

McAleese was president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011

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