Belfast Telegraph

Pope in Ireland: McAleese's Church criticisms are politically driven, says Fine Gael

By Kevin Doyle

One of Fine Gael's most senior officials has suggested former Irish President Mary McAleese is criticising the Catholic Church in a bid to raise the profile of her son ahead of a general election.

Chairman of the party's national executive, Gerry O'Connell, claimed Mrs McAleese recent outspoken behaviour was politically driven.

He described her statements as "twice daily briefings on behalf of Fianna Fail in Dublin-Rathdown" where the ex-President's son Justin hopes to stand in the next election.

Mr O'Connell, who was a central figure during the Fine Gael leadership contest last year, said the briefings are "as dependable as the Angelus these days for setting your clock".

The social media post was linked to an online news article in which Mrs McAleese, originally from north Belfast, was quoted as saying she is "terrified" by gay priests and nuns who taught children that homosexuality was wrong.

It was liked by a number of Fine Gael figures including senators Neale Richmond and Martin Conway, and Dublin city councillor Ray McAdam who works closely with Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Fine Gael said they had "no comment" and were unable to contact Mr O'Connell. One comment under the Facebook post said it was "bloody infuriating", adding that Mrs McAleese was "too busy to bother making a stand" when the Ferns Report into clerical sex abuse was published in 1998.

"Nothing like making a stand when the son is going to run in the next election," the poster said, to which Mr O'Connell replied: "Too right."

Justin McAleese spent his teenage years growing up in Aras an Uachtarain. His mother was President from 1997 until 2011.

He was actively involved in the marriage equality referendum in 2015 and has gone on to be appointed a Fianna Fail constituency representative.

Responding to Mr O'Connell's comment, Mr McAleese said: "Imagine there are a few people who think that it is okay to play petty parish pump politics with issues as serious as LGBT equality, equality of women and justice for the abused."

Mrs McAleese has become increasingly critical of the Catholic Church, sparking a backlash this week by describing the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) as a "right wing rally".

She said the event, which is the reason for Pope Francis's visit, aims to "rally people to get them motivated to fight against the tide of same-sex marriage, rights for gays, abortion rights, contraceptive rights".

Mrs McAleese is refusing to attend any of the events directly organised by the WMOF but she will be present at a State reception being hosted for the Pope in Dublin Castle on Saturday.

When asked about her comments yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "strongly" believes in the separation of Church and State.

"We need to have greater separation of Church and State. I believe in freedom of religion," he said.

"It's not for me as Taoiseach to tell any faith what their faith should be.

"I respect the fact the Catholic Church has their views and has their doctrine. That doesn't necessarily mean I agree with it," Mr Varadkar added.

He said that a number of the events taking place to mark the Pontiff's visit are outside of the WMOF.

"Those very big events such as the Dublin Castle and the Masses in Knock and Phoenix Park are broader than the World Meeting of Families," Mr Varadkar said.

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