'Abusing, disinterested or impotent' - an insider sums up the Irish priesthood

Professor Mary McAleese is pro-vice-chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast, director of its Institute of Legal Studies and a forthright defender of traditional Catholic values. Over the years she has been closely associated with the Catholic hierarchy, serving as a member of important church delegations.

Yet talking now about the state of her church, and its handling of matters such as the Brendan Smyth affair, she rails against "a shabby bleak procession of Pontius Pilate lookalikes, abusing priests, disinterested abbots, impotent cardinals and unempowered parents".

Taken out of context, this sounds remarkably like a quotation from the Reverend Ian Paisley. But this is criticism from within the church, from someone who, like many lay Catholics, feels betrayed by the institution.

Of the Irish hierarchy she says: "They have very old, rather seigneurial, magisterial ways of dealing with problems, but the world now is infinitely more democratic, infinitely more intelligent, more questioning and challenging than the world they're equipped for.

"We're living through a time when we're actually seeing the tears at the seams. The days of automatic deference have given way, not quite to automatic contempt, but in some areas close to that. I know a number of priests now who will tell you that there are parts of Dublin and of Belfast where, when they walk through them, they get catcalls, they get called names."

Professor McAleese criticises the bishops' response to the Brendan Smyth case. "I listened to the cardinal say there would be no hiding place for people like Brendan Smyth, but the truth of the matter is that he's still saying Mass in prison. I find that deeply offensive - that on one level there is a hiding place within the church."

Her principal concern is for the many victims who suffered child abuse at the hands of Brendan Smyth and other clerics. "Here we are, a huge pastoral ministry - if the church exists for anything at all it is to bring the love of God to people. Where was that exhibited in the way the church responded to the complainants in these cases? Did the priests go to their homes, did they talk to the parents, did they talk to the children, did they bring pastoral care? I don't believe they did.

"I get the feeling the bishops think that if they surrender these people to the authorities it will be all right. Well, actually it won't - it won't be all right. There's an enormous body of work to be done in terms of letting the hurt and the wounded know that the church is at their service."

In her broader view of the church she reflects the demands from a once- passive laity that it should have a real say in policy matters, which have been the preserve of Rome, the bishops and the priests. "The latter years of the current pontificate have seen a closing of doors, a banging down of bunker lids," she says. "I see very little sign that the structures of the church are prepared to engage in anything like the kind of dialogue that we want. Their kind of discussion is an 18th-century type where the master speaks and the rest remain silent. Today that simply will not do."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water