06Oct McAleese reveals ‘attack’ by disgraced cardinal

FORMER President Mary McAleese has revealed how an American cardinal — later disgraced for his involvement in covering up child sex abuse — berated her for her support of the ordination of women priests.

Mrs McAleese spoke out in support of women being ordained prior to becoming President in 1997.

In 1998, she met the now disgraced Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, former Catholic Archbishop of Boston, on an official visit to the US.

According to Ms McAleese, he told her he was “sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President” and went on to insult a junior minister who was accompanying the then president.

“His remarks were utterly inappropriate and unwelcome,” Mrs McAleese told the Irish Independent in Rome yesterday, where she was promoting her new book on canon law.

According to Mrs McAleese, Cardinal Law lambasted her and a considerable number of her official delegation after ushering them into a room where a well-known American conservative Catholic, Mary Ann Glendon, was waiting to lecture the President on her views on women priests.

Mrs McAleese said the cardinal’s language and attitude were nasty and he demanded that she sit down and listen to the orthodox view on women’s ordination from Mrs Glendon.

She said she and her delegation were initially gobsmacked by this “arrogant” man.

However, Mrs McAleese told the cardinal that she was the “President of Ireland and not just of Catholic Ireland”.

At this point, a heated argument ensued between the two, according Mrs McAleese. She revealed details of the fractious meeting yesterday as she publicised her new book ‘Quo Vadis? Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law’.

Mrs McAleese, who is studying canon law in Rome, has also recently criticised Catholic teaching on homosexuality and asks in the book if this teaching has any effect on the high suicide rates among homosexual men.

Describing the encounter with Cardinal Law, Mrs McAleese said she felt he had “insulted Ireland and the Irish people”.

On her return to Ireland, she confronted the Irish hierarchy to find out if they had been briefing Cardinal Law. Cardinal Desmond Connell was “visibly upset”, she recalled, and found it “unacceptable” and was “morally certain there was no input from the Irish bishops”.


Cardinal Cahal Daly went as far as inviting her to lunch to apologise and told the President that an invitation by the Irish bishops to Cardinal Law to come to Ireland “had been rescinded”.

Mrs McAleese said she was raising the issue now to show the difference in mind-set between the old church and the new church.

In December 2002, Cardinal Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston amid allegations he had covered up abuse by priests in the archdiocese.

He subsequently apologised for “shortcomings” and “mistakes” he had made.

In a separate interview, Mrs McAleese said Irish bishops got their handling of abusive priests “glaringly wrong” because of “utterly atrocious” advice and lack of training.

The Irish bishops were “regrettably in thrall to a few canon lawyers whose views held sway”, she said, in a reference to the role of Mgr Gerard Sheehy.

“His advice seems to have been ignore canon law and ignore civil law,” she said.

Mgr Sheehy, who is deceased, was one of the Irish church’s most senior canon lawyers.

Mgr Sheehy was heavily criticised in the 2009 Murphy report for his influence on how clerical abuse allegations were handled. He was of the view that the diocesan authorities did not have responsibility to report complaints to the civil authorities or the gardai.

Mrs McAleese said: “The only people who became trained lawyers generally were clerics.”

But there was an “absolute falling away of interest in canon law” between 1965 and 1983 when a new code of canon law was introduced.

This resulted in several generations of priests who knew nothing about canon law.

7 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    “You gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…” so goes the old song. I am pleased to read that Cardinal Desmond Connell was “visibly upset” and truly appalled at this treatment of Ireland’s president by a fellow cardinal. It is good to hear that my former PP, Cardinal Cathal Daly, rescinded the invitation to Cardinal Law and was prepared to show a more welcoming side to the episcopacy. It does my heart good to read the positive.
    Good manners stem from the belief that we are all loved equally by God and that each of us sees God in our fellow human beings. I hope that old arrogance which sadly has often been a hallmark of the hierarchical mentality will always be challenged. I hope and pray that Cardinal Law learns humility and apologises personally to Mary McAleese.

  2. Eddie Finnegan

    I could never understand why the Vatican failed to follow up on the success of its 1983 bestselling ‘The Code of Canon Law’ with a stunning sequel two decades later, ‘The Code of Cardinal Law’. This would have wiped out the sales of the illiterate rubbish of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ of 2003 and, as a tale of two cities (Boston and Cittá Vaticana), would have been far more illuminating on both the daily life of Sodano’s Holy See and the preparations for Conclave than the Illuminati-drivel of the earlier ‘Angels and Demons’. If Dan Brown could make money from muck, surely a young American insider like Charles Brown, with the help of a curial butler or two, could have given us a real blockbuster trilogy of truth?

    Not surprising to hear that Law had teamed up with Mary Ann Glendon, conservative Catholic America’s intelligent ‘attack dog’ (I hesitate to use the feminine of the species in that metaphor). Mary Ann really came into her twin-element with the later John Paul II and George Dubya Bush. Bush even made her US Ambassador to the Holy See for the last ten months of his second administration. Three months after Obama replaced her, she led the episcopal right’s attack on Notre Dame for daring to invite the US President and continues to lead the charge against ‘Obamacare’.
    The hard fact is Glendon has a much better chance of being created the current Church’s first lay cardinal than Mary McAleese ever will. The only consolation being that she was 74 yesterday – Mary McAleese is a sprightly 61. May the better woman win!

  3. Mary Donnelly

    Congratulations to Mary McAleese, a wonderful former President of Ireland. Millions of people all over the world wish to have women priests in the Catholic Church, and in a recent poll, The Irish people voted strongly in favour 78%.
    Mary, continue speaking bravely. May God continue to give you courage in face of such adversity.
    Mary Donnelly

  4. Soline Humbert

    Mary McAleese’s original public Response to Ordinatio Sacerdatolis(1994) and Statements by Cardinal Ratzinger (1995) that discussion on the ordination of women is closed was delivered at the 1995 BASIC Seminar in Dublin: Women – Sharing Fully in the Ministry of Christ? The text of her speech is available on http://www.womenpriests.org/teaching/mcalees2.asp. It is as relevant now as then, in fact even more so!

  5. Joe O'Leary

    What an awful man, and what a wonderful woman!

  6. Joe O'Leary

    “The very absence of effective in-house structures for debate and for communication upwards force a confrontational interface which simply builds up resentment” — and in the eyes of scholars quoted in her brilliant book this may be building up to a “perfect storm” that will devastate the Catholic world.

    Note that the clergy live in a homosocial and slightly misogynistic cocoon, and very few of them have bothered to speak up for, or even about, women’s ordination or to reject the Vatican’s absurd ban on thinking about it.

  7. Linda, Derry

    What a pity all these ‘Mary’s’ are so unlike Our Lady, the only ‘Mary’ worth imitating. Perfect Lady, always knew her place, perfect humility and obedience to God’s will and God’s word. That crowd would do well to heed the instruction of Pope Benedict “Live up to your Name!” Jesus is God, so God chose men..and behaving like a man does not guarantee entitlement to be treated like one!…..simple! 🙂