Former Irish president Mary McAleese has urged the pope to visit Newry in the wake of a sex abuse scandal, as well as attacking the Catholic church over its “codology dressed up as theology”.
Speaking at a press conference in Rome on Wednesday, Ms McAleese also lambasted the Vatican, saying she fears the church hierarchy has “reduced Christ to this rather unattractive politician who is just misogynistic and homophobic and anti-abortion”.
In her address, the Belfast-born lawyer said that if the pope comes to Ireland in August, he should add Newry to his itinerary due to the clerical child sex abuse allegations which led to Bishop John McAreavey standing down.
The bishop was severely criticised when it emerged last week that he was a concelebrant at a funeral mass with abuser Fr Malachy Finnegan in 2000, and then officiated at Finnegan’s funeral in 2002. Ms McAleese was speaking ahead of a conference to mark International Women’s Day yesterday.
The event has taken place at the Vatican in recent years, but moved venue this year after Cardinal Kevin Farrell blocked Ms McAleese from taking part, apparently due to her support for gay rights.
Commenting on the church’s opposition to women priests, the former president said: “I’ve read everything written on the subject, all the stuff that was recommended to me by Cardinal Desmond Connell when I wrote and said to him ‘tell me all the arguments in favour of excluding women,’ and when I read them they were so stupid I realised very quickly that it was codology dressed up as theology.”
In relation to Pope Francis, Ms McAleese said: “The hopes that I had for him and about him and about the church that he might help us to create, dwindled into disappointment. So, five years on, I’m disappointed in Francis. I keep living in hope.”
The comments have sharply divided opinion among Catholics. One supporter on Twitter said: “The fierceness in Mary McAleese’s voice as she denounces the paper-thin basis of ‘theology’ underpinning the refusal to ordain women as priests is remarkable.”
However, one pro-life campaigner said: “Mary McAleese criticises the church for being anti-abortion. The same Mary McAlesse who made interventions in previous abortion referenda from a strongly pro-life point of view. The new Mary thinks the church should be refashioned to fit her new-found social liberalism.”