Mary McAleese says Catholic Church will 'change or perish' over views on homosexuality

The former President of Ireland and LGBTQ+ rights activist was speaking as part of ShoutOut's new ‘Know Your Queer History’ series.

A long haired woman speaking in her sitting room

Mary McAleese spoke about how she became involved in campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights, why she regrets sending her children to a Catholic school and how she believes it is crunch time for the Church in the first episode of ShoutOut’s new Know Your Queer History series.

“If I knew back then what I know now, would I send my son to a Catholic school? Absolutely not,” McAleese told ShoutOut.

“I wouldn’t send any of my children to a Catholic school, bearing in mind that they got a good education in all those schools and got a great academic education and met wonderful teachers.

“There is a dark side of it that perplexes me and worries me. I think now, if I was making choices about schools and the schooling system that I would like my children to have, I would like something that opened them up to greater possibilities than I think the Catholic Church and its teaching does.

“We do need to have a discussion, particularly in the Republic where the Catholic Church is so dominant in education and by and large does a really good job in terms of education.

“We need to have the discussion that insists that Church teaching is up for discussion.

“And it is up for discussion not among male celibates in Rome, not among synods of bishops but among us families who live daily with our gay children who try to live our faith but whose voices are being completely excluded by the Church.”

Before attending university in Belfast, McAleese said she did not even know what gay was. It was only when she became friends with a gay man at Queen’s that she realised there was a world outside of her heterosexual bubble. Her activism for LGBTQ+ rights was stoked when she learned more about the difficulties gay people in Ireland faced. 

When she took her first job as Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity in the mid-1970s she befriended David Norris. He came to her to see if the law that criminalised homosexuality could be changed and together they founded the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform which eventually  succeeded in 1993. She felt it was very important for heterosexuals to help take up the cause as it was so difficult for gay people to be in the spotlight at that time.

And she has been actively campaigning ever since. Recently Mary McAleese feels that the Catholic Church has reached a crossroads. “Things are changing. The Catholic Church eventually will either change or perish – that’s what happens,” she said. “And now it’s make your mind up time.”

She pointed out how last week in a move in complete defiance of the Vatican, hundreds of German Roman Catholic bishops and priests celebrated same-sex Catholic couples by performing blessings. She feels that many lay people want change but it is being blocked by the hierarchical structure of the Church where “two men in a room in Rome” can make decisions about whether or not to bless same-sex marriages.

She also spoke about her son who is gay and happily married. “My son had a Christian wedding and I thought it was really beautiful. Quite a few priests offered to bless him and his husband and he said no to all of them.

“Now, it was nice that they were offered these private blessings but they felt they didn’t need them. 

“They blessed each other and we, the members of the congregation, we blessed them and that was enough for them.

“But for a lot of people, it would matter that a bishop or priest would offer them a blessing. “

Mary McAleese has hope that as the lay people become more educated, and with more women becoming theologians, that there will be change in the Catholic Church but she is also aware of the psychological damage and hurt that has been and continues to be caused by the Church.

“Isn’t it an awful thing for an organisation that claims to be the hand and the heart of God’s love to deliberately hurt people.”

Know Your Queer History, a series from LGBTQ+ education charity ShoutOut, features interviews with 12 individuals involved the progression of LGBTQ+ equality in Ireland. You can watch it on ShoutOut’s Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram channels.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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