Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien urged to defend gays by ex-Irish president Mary McAleese
Former Irish president Mary McAleese has called on a disgraced Catholic cardinal from Northern Ireland to come out of his clerical closet and defend homosexuality.
Once the most senior Catholic in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien was forced to resign as Archbishop of St Andrews diocese in Scotland last year after admitting that he had homosexual relationships with other priests – despite being a staunch opponent of gay marriage and gay adoption laws.
The Co Antrim man's opposition to gay marriage earned him the 'bigot of the year' award from the gay rights group Stonewall.
During a lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mrs McAleese told the crowd that the Ballycastle native had, like so many closet homosexuals, acted "in the most homophobic way", and should speak out on behalf of gay people.
"I would have thought Cardinal Keith O'Brien, in telling the story of his life – if he was willing to do that – could have been of great assistance to gay people, not just in the church but elsewhere, who felt over many, many years constrained to pretend to be heterosexual while at the same time acting a different life," she said.
Mrs McAleese called on the Catholic Church to rethink its stance on homosexuality and claimed the church is in denial when "a very large number of priests are gay".
"I don't like my 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?" she said.
She also told the audience of her shock at the response of the Papal Nuncio in Dublin, when she presented him with the research and was asked: "What do you want me to do? Do you want us to turn our back on tradition?" to which she responded: "Yes, if it's wrong".
Her comments have been welcomed by the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, a group known for speaking out against the church establishment.
"Good on her," Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery said.
"We very much welcome the comments of Mary McAleese in relation to the teachings of the church on homosexuality," he added.
Fr Flannery said he previously got into trouble when he refused to condone the church's teaching on homosexuality.
"She was right in saying that [Pope] Benedict's comments on homosexuality as something 'disordered' were unhelpful," Fr Flannery added.
During her speech, Mrs McAleese said that homosexuality with regard to Catholicism has long been "not so much the elephant in the room, but a herd of elephants".
Keith O'Brien moved with his family to Scotland after attending primary school in Ballycastle. He was ordained as a priest in April 1965. He was renowned for railing against homosexuality – until he stepped down as Archbishop last February after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him.