Priests, activists welcome McAleese’s criticism of Church stance on gay people

Commentator says Church teaching not on homosexuals being ‘wrong’ but homosexual acts

Fr Tony Flannery said he was very happy with the former president’s remarks. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Fr Tony Flannery said he was very happy with the former president’s remarks. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland


Former president Mary McAleese’s criticism of the Catholic Church’s stance on gay people have been welcomed by the Association of Catholic Priests and a gay advocacy group.

Fr Tony Flannery of the association said he was “very happy” with the former president’s remarks. She was bringing the issue out “into the open” as “it really does need to be discussed in the Church,” he told Newstalk radio today.

In an interview published in the Glasgow-based Herald newspaper yesterday Mrs McAleese said the Catholic Church has been in denial over homosexuality for decades, particularly since many priests are gay.

Fr Flannery said it was “useful” that she stated this in public. The “percentage of priests who are of homosexual orientation has undoubtedly increased” in the last decade, he said. “Some of my best friends in the priesthood are homosexual,” he said.

The Church’s’s teaching on homosexuality was “in serious need of reform”, he said. “When a certain approach to moral issue is clearly out of tune with the catholic faithful I think it has to be rethought. In a good few areas of Catholic Sexual morality I think we are in that area now, he said.

He hoped there might be more “openness and freedom” under Pope Francis. Church doctrine had developed in “all sorts of ways” throughout the centuries because of the “developing understanding about humanity”, he said.

Saying this was the “word of God” was a “”very simplistic understanding” of much Catholic moral sexual teaching.

However her comments have not been welcomed by all, with one Catholic commentator describing her remarks as “incorrect”.

The Church’s teaching was not about “homosexuals being wrong” but was about “homosexual acts being wrong”, Dr John Murray, a member of the Iona Institute board said as he spoke in a personal capacity on RTÉ Radio.

“ If you get people who are homosexuals who don’t carry out homosexual acts, it would be wrong to describe those people as sinners ,” Dr Murray said.

There were “certain basics” in the Church that were not going to change “because they come from God” and were “part and parcel of what being a Catholic is,” he said.

“The Church has no obligation to keep up with society. The church is meant to try and be faithful to the gospel as its believed,” he added.

Her remarks were welcomed by gay advocacy group Glen (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network). Mrs McAleese’s comments will “send a profoundly positive message to all lesbian and gay people,” Glen chairman Kieran Rose said in a statement today.

“Mrs McAleese continues to be a wonderful advocate for lesbian and gay people out of office, just as she was as president,” he said .

Mrs McAleese said she did not like the Church’s attitude to gay people. “ I don’t like ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. 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.”

She also criticised words attributed to the previous Pope on this subject as being contradictory. “Things written by [POPE ]Benedict, for example, were completely contradictory to modern science and to modern understanding, and to the understanding of most Catholics nowadays in relation to homosexuality.

“Nowadays, it is not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual conduct is not seen as evil,” said Mrs McAleese.