'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."

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Warehouse Developer / Analyst (SQL, SSIS, stored procedures)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

Technical Project Manager / SCRUM Master

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Technical Project Manager...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: One of SThree's most successfu...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week