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Mary McAleese hits out at culture of silence behind child sex abuse scandals in Catholic Church


Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese

Former President Mary McAleese has condemned the "dangerous silence" behind the child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

Clerical child abuse was made worse by the church's excessive demand for obedience, said Mrs McAleese in a hard-hitting address at the launch of her new book.

'Quo Vadis? Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law' -- which took four years to write -- highlights the "fear at the centre of the church".

"The demand for obedience translated regrettably into clerical child abuse and was translated into a really dangerous silence," she said.

However, she believes the great challenge for the future of the church is that lay people will stop being "passive".

Church leaders now have to cope with churchgoers who are the most educated in its history.

"They're dealing with a mass-educated laity and this is one of the major difficulties of adjustment for the church today."

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Mrs McAleese was feisty in response to those who thought she should retreat to quiet retirement.

"I'm here for the long term, get used to it," she declared.

Her husband, Martin, who is now a senator, said those who disagreed with his wife's views should have the "honesty to see that she could be their best friend".

"Mary will be in the church for the long haul and she will not go away. She is determined to spend her remaining years devoted to the church she loves," he said at the launch in the Mater Dei Institute.

He spoke of life after the Aras and revealed the toughest challenge the family had faced was that he and the children were based in Ireland, while his wife still had two more years studying Canon Law in Rome.

"I have a lot of commitments here and I get back and forth as much as I can and she comes home the odd time," he said.

"I go on a very early morning Ryanair flight on a Friday and I find I'm just fatigued when I arrive in Rome. Then I return early on the Monday morning so it's really difficult."

However, he said making the transition from the Aras to 'ordinary life' was seamless.

"We lived very ordinary lives during the 14 years we were there. It's up to you how you want to live and we were determined we would never become disconnected," he added. Mr McAleese is also head of an investigation into the Irish state's role in alleged abuse at the Magdalene laundries, and chancellor of Dublin City University.

The launch, which was held in the Marianella Centre in Rathgar, Dublin, was attended by silenced priests Sean Fagan, Tony Fannery, RTE presenter Mary Kennedy, Sr Stan Kennedy and Chief Justice Susan Denham.

Also at the launch was outspoken priest Fr Brian D'Arcy.

"She has always made an enormous contribution to independent thought in the church and her book is superb," he said.

Asked whether he supported the opening last week in Belfast of the first private clinic providing abortion on the island of Ireland, he said: "We must find some way of saving life, not destroying it."

Mrs McAleese's book was launched by the former Chief Justice Ronan Keane.

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