Belfast priests divided over McAleese 'empire of misogyny' speech
Priests in Belfast were split in their response to former Irish President Mary McAleese's comment that the Catholic Church is an "empire of misogyny".
Mrs McAleese was speaking ahead of a conference in Rome on International Women's Day calling for women to be included in church decision-making.
The event was moved off Vatican territory because a cardinal declined to sponsor it due to the Belfast woman's participation.
Mrs McAleese said in her speech: "The Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny. Its leadership has never sought a cure for that virus, though the cure is freely available. Its name is equality."
Speaking to the Press, Mrs McAleese added: "There are so few leadership roles currently available to women. Women do not have strong role models in the church they can look up to."
Father Patrick McCafferty, parish priest at Corpus Christi in Ballymurphy in west Belfast, described the comments as "completely over the top".
"I totally reject it as a priest," he said. "It is wrong and it is reactionary Yes, we have models of ministry that are only open to men, but women play vital and important roles in the church, in my church and community and right across the world."
"There certainly is room in the church for woman to be involved at the highest level, and the Pope is working to draw more women into top advisory roles.
"There is no reason, for example, why a woman could not be a cardinal, and I don't disagree with that. Women should have a pronounced input into the church."
Asked if it was time for women to be ordained as priests, Father McCafferty said: "No, and there are good reasons for that based on the scriptures and the idea that the Church is the bride of Christ.
"That was always the way it was - it is what it is."
Father Gary Donegan, who was rector of Holy Cross church in Ardoyne for more than 15 years before moving to the Tobar Mhuire Retreat Crossgar, said the former president's opinions should be heard.
"The church is a 2,000-year-old institution - it is the church we love and serve and we should be big enough to have the debate," he added.
"We are 50 years on from the Second Vatican Council, when the church became the people of God, not popes or bishops.
"Mary McAleese is just like me, a child of God. What is there to fear?"
Asked if women should have the right to become priests, Father Donegan replied: "Equal pay is about rights, this is about a vocation. Everyone should be equal in terms of how they respond. If a women should come to me to say she has had that call, who am I to say she can't follow that?"