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Priests say Mary McAleese being banned from Vatican conference is 'embarrassing'

The inclusion of McAleese on the Voices of Faith speaker panel was opposed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via Rolling News

Updated 10.45pm

THE VATICAN HAS barred former President of Ireland Mary McAleese from taking part in an International Women’s Day conference which was due to take place in the Holy See.

The list of speakers at the event required approval from a cardinal. However, McAleese and a Ugandan LGBT advocate were not granted permission to participate.

The event was organised by the Voices of Faith group, which is seeking to “empower and advocate for Catholic women to have a seat at the table of decision making in the Catholic Church”.

The inclusion of McAleese and advocate Ssenfuka Joanita Warry on the speaker panel was opposed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life.

In a statement released tonight, the Association of Catholic Priests criticised both the decision to prevent McAleese from attending the conference and the removal of pictures of same-sex couples from World Meeting of Families (WMOF) booklets circulated to Irish parishes.

“While it is unclear by whose direction the booklet was amended, it runs directly counter to the effort to extend the definition of family to include same-sex couples and to welcome them, as all Catholics are welcomed, to participate in the WMOF,” the statement said.

While both decisions are clearly part of the fallout from the present struggle in our Church ­between those who support the reform programme of Pope Francis and those who seek to block it, it is unacceptable that individuals and associations can exert such undue influence and be allowed to do so much damage.

“Our Church is paying a high price in pandering to such extremes. In our efforts to reform the Church, we simply cannot afford such mixed signals,” the statement continued.

The WMOF is due to take place in Dublin later this year.

LGBT rights

McAleese has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights. Her son Justin McAleese, who is gay, was a high-profile campaigner during the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum.

While she is a devout Catholic, she has often spoken publicly about frustrations with the Church over its stringent views on LGBT people.

Warry is a Catholic woman who runs a non-profit LGBT organisation in Uganda, where same-sex relations are punishable by life in prison.

Voices of Faith has made the decision not to host this year’s event in the Vatican anymore, and it has now been moved to the Aula of the Jesuit Curia in Rome. McAleese and Warry are still on the event’s speaker listing on its website.

Chantal Goetz, executive director of Voices of Faith, said that she was disappointed in Cardinal Farrell’s decision to oppose some of the speakers.

“It was disappointing to realise that on International Women’s Day of all days, these women who have accomplished so much in their communities could be turned away from respectfully sharing their stories and experiences as Catholics,” Goetz said.

This event allows us to not only celebrate the wonderful work Catholic women are doing across the globe but also create discussion and dialogue on the current power and leadership structures of our Church today.

In a statement, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he only heard about McAleese’s barring from the former president herself.

The statement reads: “Neither Archbishop Martin nor his offices were consulted by the Vatican in relation to this matter.

Archbishop Martin has consistently noted that the WMOF will be an inclusive event, open to all families and family members.

Deborah Rose-Milavec, a spokeswoman for Voices of Faith told RTÉ News that the group has not been given any reason for the decision.

“We are just saying it’s a tragic decision and we are shocked by it. We believe that every year we bring the best and the brightest in terms of Catholic women to the table and we believe their voices should be heard,” she said.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

Read: Evidence of two gardaí to be kept in Hutch trial, despite objection

More: Soldier awarded medal for bravery during one of Ireland’s largest drug hauls

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