Northern Ireland news

Mary McAleese 'shut down conversation with Vatican' over attempt to deny access to Church documents

Former Irish president Mary McAleese has told of how she shut down a conversation with a Vatican official following an attempt to secure an agreement with Ireland that it would not access church documents.
Marie Louise McConville

Former Irish president Mary McAleese has told of how she shut down a conversation with a Vatican official following an attempt to secure an agreement with Ireland that it would not access Church documents.

Ms McAleese, who was president between 1997 and 2011, described the conversation as "one of the most devastating moments in my presidency”.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms McAleese said the incident occurred during a state visit to Italy during which she had a private meeting with then Vatican secretary-of-state Angelo Sodano.

"He indicated that he would like, and the Vatican would like, an agreement with Ireland, a concordat with Ireland," said Ms McAleese.

"I asked him why and it was very clear it was because he wanted to protect Vatican and diocesan archives. I have to say that I immediately said the conversation had to stop,” Ms McAleese said.

"I told him I thought it extraordinarily inappropriate and very, very dangerous to the Church, if it was pursued".

Ms McAleese added: "What he [Cardinal Sodano] was asking for was an agreement between the Holy See and the Irish government under which Church documentation would be protected by the Church and the State would, clearly, have no access to it. That was what he seemed to be saying.

"I’m hoping those days are over, that everybody is more chastened now. Everybody knows now that the secrecy was certainly not conducive to the good of the Church. It eroded credibility and it eroded trust".

The former president's comments come as she revealed she is hopeful that Pope Francis will change the Church's teachings on homosexuality, which she described as "evil".

Speaking in Dublin where she received the inaugural Vanguard award for her support for the LGBT community, Ms McAleese said the fact Pope Francis had changed the Church's position on capital punishment showed that doctrines can be changed.

She said we have been fed a view that Church teachings cannot be changed, however, she said the Pope "exploded that myth" when he reversed the position on capital punishment.

Ms McAleese also said she was "disappointed" that she never received a reply from Pope Francis when she wrote to him earlier this year after an attempt to exclude her from an international women’s conference in Rome.

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