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Mary McAleese stirs up debate on Catholicism and gays

By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 January, 2014

Former president draws comparisons between the Church's view of homosexuality and its past attitude towards the Jews.

Former president, Dr Mary McAleese. Pic: courtesy Meath Chronicle.

Former president, Dr Mary McAleese. Pic: courtesy Meath Chronicle.

A spokesman for the Irish Bishops has said the Church clearly teaches that “people who are homosexual must always be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect.”

Martin Long made his comment to the Irish Times when asked to respond to comments made by former president, Dr Mary McAleese, on the issue of the Church’s treatment and attitude to homosexuality.

However, Mr Long refused to comment further on Mrs McAleese’s comments. 

He told the Irish Times, “The Catholic Communications Office does not respond to reported comments of individuals.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests welcomed Mary McAleese’s comments.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News At One, Fr Tony Flannery said he was not surprised by them and that he would be in agreement with most of what she had said.

Fr Flannery said the Church’s understanding of humanity and sexuality had developed in all sorts of ways down the centuries. “All of that has to be taken into account,” he said.

He said he believed that when a certain approach to a moral issue is clearly out of tune with the Catholic faithful, it has to be re-considered. “In a good few areas of Catholic sexual morality, I think we’re in that situation now.”

Fr Flannery said a change of tone on this issue would be helpful and he referred to the tone of Pope Benedict as “enormously unhelpful”.

One the same programme, Dr John Murray, a moral theologian at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin, said the Church was under no obligation to keep up with society but rather had to be faithful to the teachings of the Gospel.

“I would say that she is incorrect in her rejection of the Church’s teaching about marriage and homosexual acts and sexual ethics,” he said.

Dr Murray said the Church had two sides to what it was saying on this issue. “One is a very definite moral standard, that it asks all of us to live by and the other is the teaching that we are all meant to be respected as people.”

He explained that there are “certain basics” in the Church’s teachings which are not going to change because they come from God according to the Church’s view.

“So that is part and parcel of what being a Catholic is – it is accepting that revelation from God and that teaching from God,” he said.

Mrs McAleese told a Glasgow newspaper that a large number of Catholic priests were homosexuals and the Church was in denial about homosexuality.

Her comments to the Herald newspaper were made last month, but were only published yesterday.

“I don’t like my Church’s attitude to gay people. I don’t like ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’,” she also said during a lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 

“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.”

During her speech, Mrs McAleese said that homosexuality with regard to Catholicism has long been “not so much the elephant in the room, but a herd of elephants.”

She also made reference to the disgraced Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was forced to resign last year after admitting that he had homosexual relationships with other priests.

Cardinal O’Brien was notedly staunch in his opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption.

Mrs McAleese said in her address that the former head of the Church in Scotland had, like so many closet homosexuals, acted “in the most homophobic way”, and should now speak out on behalf of gay people.

“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,” Mrs McAleese said.

She also drew comparisons between the Church’s view of homosexuality and its previous attitude towards the Jews.

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