Former Irish President Mary McAleese has opened up on a major diplomatic row with an American cardinal who was later disgraced for covering up child sex abuse.

Cardinal Bernard Francis Law was Archbishop of Boston when he clashed with President McAleese on a state visit to the US in 1998.

The Irish leader was publicly berated by Cardinal Law for her open support for the ordination of women priests.

The Catholic Bishop told McAleese that he was: “Sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President.”

The former President, now studying theology in Rome where she has published a book on canon law, told the Irish Independent that the Cardinal also attacked a junior minister who had accompanied her on the trip.

She told the paper: “His remarks were utterly inappropriate and unwelcome.

“Cardinal Law lambasted me and a considerable number of the official delegation after ushering us into a room where a well-known American conservative Catholic, Mary Ann Glendon, was waiting to lecture me on my views on women priests.”

McAleese told the paper that 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 Glendon.

She added: “We were initially gobsmacked by this arrogant man.
“I then told the cardinal that I was the President of Ireland and not just of Catholic Ireland.”

McAleese then revealed how a heated argument broke out between the two.
She said: “I felt he had insulted Ireland and the Irish people.”

The paper also reports that she confronted the Irish hierarchy on her return to Ireland to find out if they had been briefing Cardinal Law.

She recalled that Cardinal Desmond Connell was ‘visibly upset’ and found it ‘unacceptable’. She said: “He was morally certain there was no input from the Irish bishops.”

Cardinal Cahal Daly apologized to the President at an official launch and confirmed that an invitation by the Irish bishops to Cardinal Law to come to Ireland had been rescinded.

McAleese told the Irish Independent that she was raising the issue now to show the difference in mind-set between the old church and the new church.

Cardinal Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 amid allegations he had covered up abuse by priests in the archdiocese.

Speaking ahead of her book launch in Rome, McAleese also said Irish bishops got their handling of abusive priests ‘glaringly wrong’.

She attributed this to ‘utterly atrocious advice and lack of training’.

She added: “The Irish bishops were regrettably in thrall to a few canon lawyers whose views held sway.

“The advice seems to have been to ignore canon law and ignore civil law.

“The only people who became trained lawyers generally were clerics.

“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.”