Former Irish president Mary McAleese has called on former Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien to talk openly about his homosexuality. O’Brien, a native of County Antrim, resigned after allegations of an affair with a fellow cleric and admitting that he had “fallen beneath the standards expected of him.”

 At the time he was one of the most outspoken anti-gay priests calling homosexuality “a moral aberration”.

Speaking in Edinburgh, McAleese said the Catholic Church had been “in denial over homosexuality for decades” and that it was "not so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants".

She was speaking at a lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.

She said "I don't like my Church's attitude to gay people. I don't like 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. If you are the so-called sinner, who likes to be called that? We also know that within the priesthood a very large number of priests are gay."

McAleese said "I would have thought Cardinal Keith O'Brien, in telling the story of his life – if he was willing to do that – could have been of great assistance to gay people, not just in the Church but elsewhere, who felt over many, many years constrained to pretend to be heterosexual while at the same time acting a different life."

Mrs McAleese claimed Cardinal O'Brien had tried to cover up his homosexuality by acting "in the most homophobic way."

This she said reflected the church in general and its wrong teaching on gays.

She said: "Things written by Benedict, for example, were completely contradictory to modern science and to modern understanding, and to the understanding of most Catholics nowadays in relation to homosexuality.

"Nowadays, it is not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual conduct is not seen as evil."

She compared it to the Church's attitude to Jews pointing out that it took almost two thousand years to remove the "Christ-killer" libel.

Mrs McAleese said research showed that many suicides by young males in Ireland was as a result of their shame in being gay. especially when the church told them their behavior was "intrinsically disordered" and "evil."

She showed this research to the new Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown in Dublin and  was surprised by his response.

She said he asked her "What do you want me to do? Do you want us to turn our back on tradition?" Her answer was: "Yes, if it's wrong."

McAleese’s comments came in the midst of a new scandal in the Scottish Church in which a priest, Father Matthew Despard, spoke publicly about an alleged culture of ­homosexual bullying in the Church. He has been suspended by the church.