FORMER President Mary McAleese has criticised the Catholic Church for its "isolated" views on homosexuality, saying it has left youngsters in Catholic schools struggling to cope.
She also expressed concern at the growing number of young men who have died by suicide, especially gay men who are most at risk of taking their own lives.
"They are the victims, one, of homophobic bullying; they are also frankly highly conflicted," said Mrs McAleese, who is studying canon law in Rome after her 14-year spell as president, which ended in November.
She said the church's attitude to homosexuality has left the vast majority of Irish children who attended Catholic schools deeply confused.
"They will have heard words like disorder, they may have heard the word evil used in relation to homosexual practice," she told Pat Kenny on RTE yesterday.
"When they make the discovery, and it is a discovery and not a decision, when they make the discovery they are gay when they are 14, 15 and 16, an internal conflict of absolutely appalling proportions opens up.
"They may very well have heard their mothers, their fathers, their uncles, aunts, friends use dreadful language in relation to homosexuality and now they are driven into a space that is dark and bleak," she added.
She met Papal Nuncio Charles Brown, who represents Pope Benedict XVI in Ireland, shortly after Easter to discuss the issue with him.
However, the former president -- who has published a book entitled 'Quo Vadis: Collegiality In The Code Of Canon Law' -- said meaningful progress will not be made until the "omerta" or code of silence is lifted.
She also said the child abuse scandals have left "a massive hallowing out of trust" in the church's leadership and criticised bishops for the manner in which they dealt with the issue.
"The internal damage done to community, to trust, could in many ways have been avoided had there been much better lines of communication up through the system," Mrs McAleese said.