An Irish Cardinal has forced a major international conference on women's rights to move from the Vatican as he objected to former president Mary McAleese, who is the keynote speaker at the event.
ublin-born Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who is overseeing the Vatican's preparations for the World Meeting of Families in Ireland in August, attempted to block Dr McAleese from addressing the '2018 Voices of Faith' conference, which will take place on International Women's Day on March 8.
Correspondence seen by the Irish Independent reveals a stand-off occurred between the conference organisers and Cardinal Farrell over his withholding of approval not just for Dr McAleese but two other speakers as well.
The Irish Independent understands that Dr McAleese's views on gay rights is the reason the prelate objected. She has previously spoken about how son Justin, as a devout young Catholic, was bullied because he was gay.
She said that Justin went through "torture" when he discovered what his Church taught about homosexuality. Another conference speaker Ssenfuka Joanita Warry is a Catholic who campaigns for LGBT rights in Uganda and is herself gay.
This is the first year the Vatican has withheld approval of any speakers for the annual 'Voices of Faith' gathering, which brings together high-profile international speakers to address issues of concern to women around the world.
For the past four years, the conference has taken place within the Vatican. But this year's event ran into trouble with Cardinal Farrell, who heads up the Congregation for Laity, Family and Life and has taken up oversight of the conference.
Chantal Götz, who is executive director of the Catholic philanthropic Fidel Götz Foundation and is the main organiser of the conference, took the decision to move the venue of 'Why Women Matter' from the Vatican to the Jesuit Aula in Rome rather than cave in to the Irish prelate's demands.
"The list of speakers required approval from Cardinal Farrell," Ms Götz, who is based in Liechtenstein, told the Irish Independent. "He sent the list of names back to me with those names to which he gave permission. Mary McAleese and two others were not on it."
In correspondence, Ms Götz described the Cardinal's failure to respond to her efforts to compromise and "barring" women's voices as "unacceptable".
The Irish Independent understands that efforts were made to get Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin to intervene to help resolve the impasse but to no avail. She said unsuccessful efforts were made to get the cardinal to change his mind.
Rather than exclude the three high-profile speakers from the conference, the organisers decided to move the conference to a venue outside the Vatican.
"We realised it is crucial for us to bring voices that represent perspectives often not heard at the Vatican," Ms Götz said. She added that, as a non-Vatican entity, "ultimately, we did not see a reason why these women should have to go through an 'approval process' by anyone".
She also highlighted that on his recent visit to Chile, Pope Francis told young people that "opinions often arrive to Rome filtered" and she said the women's event "aims to change that".
Invitations have been sent to Pope Francis and a number of cardinals to attend the conference. A spokesperson for the Vatican told the Irish Independent the event was "not a Vatican conference" and suggested that questions should be directed to the organisers.