Former Irish President Mary McAleese has revealed an old bid by the Vatican to prevent Ireland accessing Catholic Church documents.

It wasn’t pursued when she expressed the view that the secrecy would place the church “flat on its back.”

She told The Irish Times that the attempt in 2003 was “one of the most devastating moments in my presidency.”

It occurred during a state visit to Italy when she had a private meeting with the then-Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

McAleese said, “He indicated that he would like, and the Vatican would like, an agreement with Ireland, a concordat with Ireland. I asked him why and it was very clear it was because he wanted to protect the Vatican and diocesan archives. I have to say that I immediately said the conversation had to stop.

“I told him I thought it extraordinarily inappropriate and very, very dangerous to the church if it was pursued.”

Read moreFormer Irish president Mary McAleese brands Catholic Church “empire of misogyny”

The Vatican sought a deal with the Irish state in 2003 to keep church archives closed, according to former president Mary McAleese.

The approach from the Vatican came at a time when two statutory inquiries were under way into child abuse involving...

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She was very unhappy it was raised with her in private by Sodano. She told Monsignor Joe Murphy of Cloyne, Sodano’s secretary, who was in the room, “Would you explain to the cardinal that the church in Ireland is on the back foot. If this matter is pursued any further in this conversation or pursued outside of it, in my view the church would be flat on its back.”

She added that the matter was dropped and she never heard any mention of it again.

What worried her most was that there were then two statutory inquiries under way in Ireland into child abuse involving the church.

Former president of Ireland Mary McAleese says the Vatican tried to arrange an agreement to block the Irish state from accessing Church documents during an early investigation of clerical sexual abuse.

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“What he was asking for was an agreement between the Holy See and the Irish government under which church documentation would be protected by the church and the state would, clearly, have no access to it. That was what he seemed to be saying,” she said.

She was gratified that the idea was not pursued.

McAleese added, “I’m hoping those days are over, that everybody is more chastened now. Everybody knows now that the secrecy was certainly not conducive to the good of the church. It eroded credibility and it eroded trust.”

The Irish Times reported that it sought a comment from the Vatican’s press office but none was forthcoming.

Read more: Mary McAleese will not apologize to Catholic church following abortion vote

It now transpires that, a year after Card Sodano sought to persuade then Irish president Mary McAleese to protect church documents from abuse probes, he asked then foreign minister Dermot Ahern to idemnify the Church against clerical abuse claims.

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Separately, in advance of Pope Francis’s Irish visit later this month, McAleese has accused him of “bad manners” for not acknowledging or replying to a letter from her about being barred from the Vatican in March when she was invited to give a speech in the city on Women’s Day.

She blamed Dublin-born Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, for the barring decision.

She said, “The intervention of Cardinal Farrell, who after all is the mastermind of this papal visit, I have to say that his decision to exclude me was done very deliberately.

“It was a deliberate, personal insult to me. It was designed to send a message to me.”

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