Belfast Telegraph

Cardinal's bid to ban Mary McAleese from conference at the Vatican

By Sarah MacDonald

An Irish cardinal has forced a major international conference on women's rights to move from its venue in the Vatican after he objected to the presence of former Irish President Mary McAleese, who is the keynote speaker at the event.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who is overseeing the Vatican's preparations for the World Meeting of Families in Ireland in August, attempted to block Dr McAleese from addressing the 2018 Voices Of Faith conference on International Women's Day on March 8.

Correspondence reveals a stand-off occurred between conference organisers and Cardinal Farrell over his withholding of approval for Dr McAleese, who is originally from Belfast, and two other speakers.

It is understood that Dr McAleese's views on gay rights is the reason the prelate objected. She has previously spoken about how son Justin, as a devout young Catholic, was bullied because he was gay. She said Justin went through "torture" when he discovered what his Church taught about homosexuality.

Another speaker, Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, is a Catholic who campaigns for LGBT rights in Uganda and is herself gay.

This is the first year the Vatican has withheld approval of any speakers for the annual Voices Of Faith gathering, which brings together high profile international speakers to address issues of concern to women.

For the past four years, the conference has taken place in the Vatican. But this year's event ran into trouble with Cardinal Farrell, who heads up the Congregation for Laity, Family and Life, and has taken over oversight of the conference from Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Chantal Gotz, the main conference organiser, decided to move the venue from the Vatican to the Jesuit Aula in Rome rather than cave in to the cardinal.

"The list of speakers required approval from Cardinal Farrell," Ms Gotz, who is based in Liechtenstein, said.

"He sent the list of names back to me with those names to which he gave permission. Mary McAleese and two others were not on it."

In correspondence, Ms Gotz describes the cardinal's failure to respond to her efforts for dialogue and compromise, and "barring" women's voices as "unacceptable".

It is understood efforts were made to get Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin to intervene to help resolve the impasse, but to no avail. Ms Gotz said unsuccessful attempts were made to get the cardinal to change his mind, but he didn't respond to her.

Rather than exclude the three high-profile speakers from the conference, the organisers decided to move the event outside the Vatican.

According to Ms Gotz, a lawyer: "We realised that it is crucial for us to bring voices that represent perspectives often not heard at the Vatican."

She added that, as a non-Vatican entity, "ultimately, we did not see a reason why these women should have to go through an 'approval process' by anyone".

Pope Francis has been invited to attend the conference.

A Vatican spokesman said the event was "not a Vatican conference" and suggested questions should be directed to the organisers.

Belfast Telegraph

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