Former Irish president Mary McAleese’s comments that the Catholic Church needs to stop its demonization of gays has been welcomed by the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, a large lobby group known for being critical of the church establishment. The association says that over 1,000 priests are members of ACP.

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 also critical of Pope Benedict’s comments on gays being “disordered.”

"Good on her," Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery, leader of the ACP told the Irish Independent, adding: "We very much welcome the comments of Mary McAleese in relation to the teachings of the church on homosexuality."

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." Fr Flannery said he previously got into trouble when he refused to condone the church's teaching on homosexuality.

"She was right in saying that Benedict's comments on homosexuality as something 'disordered' were unhelpful," Fr Flannery stated.

"We would also agree that a great number of Catholic priests are in fact homosexual themselves and there should be more openness around the issue of sexuality in the Catholic Church."
During her speech, McAleese said that Irish-born Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien should openly voice his homosexuality.

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."

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."