FORMER President Mary McAleese has revealed how an American cardinal -- later disgraced for his involvement in covering up child sex abuse -- berated her for her support of the ordination of women priests.
Mrs McAleese spoke out in support of women being ordained prior to becoming President in 1997.
In 1998, she met the now disgraced Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, former Catholic Archbishop of Boston, on an official visit to the US.
According to Ms McAleese, he told her he was "sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President" and went on to insult a junior minister who was accompanying the then president.
"His remarks were utterly inappropriate and unwelcome," Mrs McAleese told the Irish Independent in Rome yesterday, where she was promoting her new book on canon law.
According to Mrs McAleese, Cardinal Law lambasted her and a considerable number of her official delegation after ushering them into a room where a well-known American conservative Catholic, Mary Ann Glendon, was waiting to lecture the President on her views on women priests.
Mrs McAleese said the cardinal's language and attitude were nasty and he demanded that she sit down and listen to the orthodox view on women's ordination from Mrs Glendon.
She said she and her delegation were initially gobsmacked by this "arrogant" man.
However, Mrs McAleese told the cardinal that she was the "President of Ireland and not just of Catholic Ireland".
At this point, a heated argument ensued between the two, according Mrs McAleese. She revealed details of the fractious meeting yesterday as she publicised her new book 'Quo Vadis? Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law'.
Mrs McAleese, who is studying canon law in Rome, has also recently criticised Catholic teaching on homosexuality and asks in the book if this teaching has any effect on the high suicide rates among homosexual men.
Describing the encounter with Cardinal Law, Mrs McAleese said she felt he had "insulted Ireland and the Irish people".
On her return to Ireland, she confronted the Irish hierarchy to find out if they had been briefing Cardinal Law. Cardinal Desmond Connell was "visibly upset", she recalled, and found it "unacceptable" and was "morally certain there was no input from the Irish bishops".
Cardinal Cahal Daly went as far as inviting her to lunch to apologise and told the President that an invitation by the Irish bishops to Cardinal Law to come to Ireland "had been rescinded".
Mrs McAleese said she was raising the issue now to show the difference in mind-set between the old church and the new church.
In December 2002, Cardinal Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston amid allegations he had covered up abuse by priests in the archdiocese.
He subsequently apologised for "shortcomings" and "mistakes" he had made.
In a separate interview, Mrs McAleese said Irish bishops got their handling of abusive priests "glaringly wrong" because of "utterly atrocious" advice and lack of training.
The Irish bishops were "regrettably in thrall to a few canon lawyers whose views held sway", she said, in a reference to the role of Mgr Gerard Sheehy.
"His advice seems to have been ignore canon law and ignore civil law," she said.
Mgr Sheehy, who is deceased, was one of the Irish church's most senior canon lawyers.
Mgr Sheehy was heavily criticised in the 2009 Murphy report for his influence on how clerical abuse allegations were handled. He was of the view that the diocesan authorities did not have responsibility to report complaints to the civil authorities or the gardai.
Mrs McAleese said: "The only people who became trained lawyers generally were clerics."
But there was an "absolute falling away of interest in canon law" between 1965 and 1983 when a new code of canon law was introduced.
This resulted in several generations of priests who knew nothing about canon law.