Mary McAleese | Today with Sean O'Rourke
Interview of Mary McAleese
March 12, 2018
[Note: This is a transcript by BishopAccountability.org of the two portions of the interview that pertain to abuse. During the interview, McAleese discusses briefly several texts: a letter written by her brother Clem Leneghan; an apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, by Pope John Paul II; and the Irish bishops' Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response, referred to below as the Guidelines. Most of the interview concerns McAleese's March 8, 2018 speech at the Voices of Faith conference in Rome (specifically her assertion that "the Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny") and the upcoming Irish referendum to repeal article 40.3.3, known as the eighth amendment.]
Sean O’Rourke: Do you accept the authority of the Pope?
Mary McAleese: Of course I accept the authority of the Pope. I’m a Catholic; of course I do.
O’Rourke: Yes, but it does appear from what you’re saying that ... you just sort of have to do it through gritted teeth. You don’t like what they’re saying or teaching and ...
McAleese: But look ...
O’Rourke: ... and you just have to get on with it and see what you can do.
McAleese: Sean, look, 1988, when John Paul wrote a letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, in which he set out the reasons why women couldn’t be ordained. That was 1988. And I wrote to the Pope at the time and said, look, I have great difficulty, I can’t believe this, I can’t accept it, I can’t teach my children it. I don’t want to be out of communion with my church – tell me, am I out of communion with my church? And he wrote back, through an intermediary, of course, saying, absolutely not, that’s fine, you know. And I accept, I absolutely accept the authority of the Pope. Do I believe absolutely everything the Pope says? I don’t have to, no, because only very occasionally does he speak with what we call infallible authority; a lot of the time he doesn't. Let me just take very recently, a month ago he spoke in Chile, to victims of sexual abuse, and what he said was dreadful, hurtful, and also deeply inaccurate, very flawed. Do I have to accept that? Of course I don’t. I’m perfectly correct to say that that was hurtful to a lot of people. He himself had to apologise.
O’Rourke: A few years ago, sitting in the chair you’re actually sitting in right now, was the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, and I asked him, how long is the Catholic Church going to be haunted by the sexual abuse crisis? And he said, hopefully forever, which is probably not a bad way to look at it. And again, we see in recent weeks, just a couple of weeks ago, the resignation of Bishop John McAreavy, the bishop of Drumore, in the wake of revelations and lots of attention going on, a man called Malachy Finnegan. Now, you knew that man, did you, you knew Malachy Finnegan? [Pause.] He was the principal of...
McAleese: My ...
O’Rourke: ... St. Colman’s College ...
McAleese: ... my youngest ...
O’Rourke: ... in Newry.
McAleese: ... my youngest brother, my baby brother, youngest of nine children, was seriously physically sadistically abused by Malachy Finnegan.
O’Rourke: That’s a terrible thing to’ve happened.
McAleese: My mother almost ... my mother, almost ninety years of age, had to discover that from the Belfast Telegraph three weeks ago. All my brothers, my ... four of my five brothers went to that school, and my wonderful, beautiful, and as you can imagine, the youngest of the family, so incredibly loved by all of us ... to think that he suffered, and never felt that he could tell anyone.
O’Rourke: For how long did he have to endure that?
McAleese: My brother will be 50 years of age next year.
O’Rourke: And obviously the pain, and the trauma, and the distress, is with him, it would have to be with him to this day. But if ... for how long did it go on in the school?
McAleese: For all the years he was there ...
O’Rourke: Good heavens ... and ...
McAleese: ... and it was known, and as he pointed out, they all, they ... so many people had to have known. So many people who were in the school had to have known. So many people who ... who could have done something about it ... We know now that the first, the very first complaints about Malachy Finnegan go back to the 1970s, not the 1990s at all, but go back to the 1970s, which means that there’s a body of information that was well known to people who were in a position to do something about it, but didn’t. What frightens me about this is that ... that we only find this out, you know, all these decades later. I mean, I’m the oldest of the nine children, and I would have always said that you know, my brothers could tell me anything. But he didn’t, because that culture of silence was so oppressive, and because these children were made so fearful. And I’m speaking as somebody who knows, for example, John McAreavey very well. John McAreavey was a very regular visitor to our home; my brothers were all cigire up in the Gaeltacht, part of the world you know well, up in Donegal, and they used to travel up and down with John, stay in the same house as John, and he was always very kind and good to them. But there are huge questions now to be answered by all the people who were involved at a senior level in that school and in the diocese, as to what they knew, when they knew it, I mean, it shouts for an inquiry, really.
O’Rourke: And how should that inquiry be conducted? Is it ... is it, I mean, the Church has its own experts, advisors, who are independent, I can’t, the name of the man escapes me right now, but ...
McAleese: I ...
O’Rourke: ... clearly an independent inquiry would be warranted in your view.
McAleese: ... Oh, I think it’s an independent inquiry, yes.
O’Rourke: You’ve said as well that you think it would be a good thing ... in fact you’ve said that the Pope really should go to Newry.
McAleese: Well, I mention Newry because there a background to this. First of all, because of the pastoral needs. When the Pope comes to Ireland in August, and please God he come, and he’ll be warmly welcomed and it’ll be a great event, that’s what my hope is, but he’d be the first Pope since the Ryan Report, the Murphy Report, the Cloyne Report, and of course more recently in Northern Ireland, the Hart Report, but also now the Diocese of Down, beg your pardon, the Diocese of Drumore. If you go back to 1979, to the Pope’s visit, to John Paul’s visit, I don’t know how it could be forgotten, but sometimes in the equation it can be forgotten, but there was talk of a plan that he might go North, and that he might go, for example, to Newry. That was completely obliterated because he came in September; if you remember, on the August bank holiday a month earlier, we had the tragedy of the IRA attack which killed 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint and Lord Mountbatten in Mullaghmore. So going to Newry was simply not feasible. So now, it seems to me, that not only it is feasible, but it is pastorally, it would be pastorally a wonderful thing, because people are suffering as a result, all over Ireland, as a result, of course, of the abuse issue, but we also have to recognise that the peace process has offered us a tremendous opportunity for building now new sets of relationships across the Protestant-Catholic divide, for healing and for reconciliation, and I would have thought Newry would have been a good place to visit.
O’Rourke: More so than Armagh, the so-called cathedral city where you’ve the big ...
McAleese: Both, why not both? But it was Newry precisely because back in ’79 Newry had been mooted and was off the agenda because of Mullaghmore and Warrenpoint.
O’Rourke: Just to go back, you said you always thought anybody could say anything to you in the family, and could confide in you, what age was he when he did, about that abuse? [Pause.]
McAleese: He was 49.
O’Rourke: Oh good heavens, so it’s only in the last year.
McAleese: And, but I, you know, he was seven when I got married and left home, and I just think ... there are, look, he’s not the only one. There are ...
O’Rourke: There are 12 cases, or something?
McAleese: They are legion; they are legion, the silent sufferers. And they carry it with them through their lives and it remains unresolved and it causes dysfunction and it causes difficulties, and we know that story, because it’s the story of Ryan, of Murphy, of Cloyne, of Hart, of all these. And the sad thing for me is, that here we are, you know, and it’s 20 years after the new Guidelines were introduced and everything, and we were supposed to have diocesan audits, and we were supposed to be told, all the secrets were supposed to be out there, there were supposed to be no more secrets, and yet here we are, and there is a mountain of them, and a mountain of hurt. You saw it yourself, the response, the response to John McAreavey. And John would not be a disliked man; he would be a liked and a respected man, and yet local people ...
O’Rourke: Would it say something, then ...
McAleese: ... local people said they didn’t want him confirming their children, and he, and he feeling obliged – and he’s a top canon lawyer – he feeling obliged to resign immediately, without sending, without going through what I call the canonical forum of writing to the Pope first and waiting for the Pope to accept his resignation. These are strange times, Sean. These are very very strange times.
O’Rourke: Look, I hope I didn’t sort of intrude too much on your family, family situation.
McAleese: I wasn’t expecting that, I’m sorry.
O’Rourke: My apologies on that score.