McAleese says Catholic Church’s ‘old boys club’ has to go

Former president speaking at Sydney Town Hall

Speaking in Sydney yesterday, former president Mary McAleese argued for a greatly increased role for women in the Catholic Church, saying: "The old boys' club are going to have to go."

About 1,000 people came to Sydney Town Hall to see Mrs McAleese interviewed by ABC radio presenter Andrew West.

In a reference to an Australian Catholic newspaper refusing to run an advertisement for the event because of Mrs McAleese’s views on homosexuality and the ordination of women, Mr West said: “We have to thank the Catholic Weekly for a full house today.”

Mrs McAleese said after the advert ban was reported by The Irish Times and other media "I had emails from friends in America and Japan saying 'what's going on in Sydney'?"


She said trying to be heard by the Catholic Church hierarchy was comparable to shouting at children: “If I’m yelling it’s because you didn’t listen to me when I said it nicely . . . I look at the curia and I don’t know too many of them who have gone through equal opportunity training.”

Mrs McAleese said the governance of the church “and the structure of church government needs to change”.

“The church is not terribly happy with criticism,” she said to laughter from the audience. “I’m saying that as gently as possible ... The church which will not listen to people who speak out of love has a very big problem.”

Speaking about Ireland, Mrs McAleese said though 90 per cent of the population of the Republic were nominally Catholic "regrettably fewer and fewer" were interested in the church.

She said child abuse revelations greatly affected people’s view of the church. “Everything you thought you had, everything you thought you were, becomes a lie.”

Mrs McAleese said when she was president a senior cleric laughed at her when she said the church should open up its files on child abuse or the State would force it to do so. The State would never cross that line, he said to her. “A week later, the State crossed that line,” she told the audience.

She added that “stories came out thanks to the courage of the victims” and the media, not thanks to the church.

Pádraig Collins

Pádraig Collins

Pádraig Collins a contributor to The Irish Times based in Sydney