The former president of Ireland has said that churches in that country, including the Catholic one, are “conduits for homophobia.”
Mary McAleese made her remarks during a television interview, suggesting that Ireland retains a homophobia problem, which came to light through recent anti-LGBTQ violence, including two murders. She noted that the country is fairly safe for gay people, like her son, but that is not true everywhere. The Independent reported on how she tied this problem to Irish churches:
“The 70-year-old added religion has a ‘very big role’ in Ireland and largely influences attitudes.
“‘We also need to have the kind of debate about where does this hatred come from? What keeps it going? What fails to challenge it?’ she said.
“‘And I still think, regrettably, that in a country where religion plays a very, very, very big role and is a huge key influencer of attitudes, I think the churches, and I’m not just talking about the Catholic church, I’m talking about all the major denominations because all of them are conduits for homophobia.
“‘They all have questions to ask about whether or not, and to what extent, they have been conduits for hatred’.”
McAleese attributed changing social attitudes regarding homosexuality to better education in liberal democracies that expose oppressive patterns of thought, saying:
“‘[Education exposes] The groundlessness of sexism, of homophobia, of all those ‘isms’ that hold us back from really loving one another and being tolerant and inclusive of one another as we should be’.”
The mother of a gay child, McAleese has been repeatedly critical of the institutional Catholic Church for its teachings on LGBTQ people. Most recently in 2021, she said she regretted sending her children to Catholic schools and called the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-gender couples “gratuitously cruel.” She has been explicit about the need to change church teaching, which she said in 2020 “empowers the homophobic bully.”
Previously, she criticized exclusionary censoring in the preparatory materials for the 2018 World Meeting of Families, which took place in Dublin. She has endorsed marriage equality. In 2015, she addressed an international conference on Catholic LGBT issues, sponsored by the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. McAleese was also a legal advisor for the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform that succeeded in decriminalizing homosexuality in Ireland in 1993.
Mary McAleese’s critique of the church may seem extreme to some, as her rhetoric can be quite strong. But deeper than the rhetoric, there is a truth in her remarks that religious institutions which have LGBTQ-negative teachings and practices need to confront the harm they have caused, and change their ways.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 21, 2022