An ecumenical matter: McAleese made canon at Christ Church

Development brings to mind president’s ‘wafergate’ furore of 1997

Former president of Ireland Mary McAleese has been appointed among the first ever honorary lay ecumenical canons at the Church of Ireland's Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.

Honorary ecumenical lay canons may attend chapter meetings at the cathedral and preach.

It comes almost 20 years after one of the most controversial acts of her presidency, when Mrs McAleese received Communion at the cathedral.

Others to be appointed include a Presbyterian minister, a Jesuit priest and a professor of clinical psychiatry. Each will serve for five years.


A bill allowing for the appointment of the honorary canons was passed at the Church's General Synod in Limerick in May. This was intended to reflect the desire "to honour lay people who had given particular and distinguished service to cathedral or public life". It would also reflect "the cathedral's mission and ministry in the city amid a changing ecumenical culture".

Three other appointees announced on Monday include Jim Lucey, clinical professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin; Rev Lorraine Kennedy-Ritchie, minister at Clontarf and Scots Presbyterian Church in Dublin; Fr David Tuohy, a Jesuit priest who has spent most of his ministry in education.

Spirit of inclusivity

Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson, said he hoped that "in the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation" the appointments allowed the cathedral to recognise "in a small yet significant way ... the distinct and unique contributions of a wide range of people associated with public and religious life in Ireland from a wide variety of perspectives".

The dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Very Rev Dermot Dunne, said "the cathedral church of the city of Dublin" provided "a tangible and visible ecumenical expression where all traditions of the Christian faith can come together in a space that is neither threatening nor exclusive."

Having ecumenical canons would “broaden the ecumenical landscape of both the cathedral and the dioceses”, he said.

Almost 20 years ago, in one of the first and most controversial acts of her presidency, Mrs McAleese received Communion at Christ Church Cathedral. The then Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell, said it was "a sham" for a Catholic to do such a thing.

The following year, in August 1998, the Catholic bishops of these islands published One Bread One Body, a document that stated that in no circumstances were Catholics to receive Communion in a Protestant church and Protestants could do so in a Catholic Church only in extremis.

One Bread One Body was originally scheduled for publication in May 1998 but was held over to August "for technical reasons" after the Belfast Agreement was signed in April 1998.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times