Mary McAleese should give ‘simple, dignified’ apology: Breda O’Brien

Nov 16, 2019 | 2 comments

Irish Times columnist Breda O’Brien

The Irish Times columnist Breda O’Brien has called on former Irish president Mary McAleese to make a ‘simple, dignified’ apology – for attributing to Pope John Paul II ‘the very opposite position to the one that he holds’ – at a function in Trinity College, Dublin on Nov 2nd.

Her article outlines the story of the 1960 book, by the then Karol Wojtyla, ‘Love and Responsibility‘, the original source of the quote used by Mrs Aleese. Her presentation of the quote has drawn criticism from a number of academics for seeming to imply that Pope St John Paul II had condoned rape within marriage.

The episode was recorded in a podcast, while a transcription of the relevant exchange can be found here.

Ms O’Brien does not accept Mrs McAleese’s defence of the quote – that she had simply quoted the passage as an ‘analogy’ for male domination of women. She asks “Why choose an extract and present it in a way that allows an inaccurate and highly damaging impression of the author’s views to be formed?”

The dignified thing for the former president to do, argues Ms O’Brien, would simply be to deny that she had ever intended to imply that Karol Wojtyla had endorsed rape.

For the full article in the Irish Times, click here.


  1. Mary Vallely

    I think Breda’s article is balanced and fair. With the benefit of hindsight some of us, including myself, were just too quick to jump in and give an emotional reaction to the attacks on Mary McAleese’s choice of text and her interpretation of same. She probably did not INTEND to cause hurt to admirers of the late Pope or a disservice to his writings but to draw an analogy to the grievous treatment and discrimination of women in the RCC. It is unfortunate that so much attention has been drawn to this one error of judgement so that other very valid points made are now lost. I agree with Breda that Mary should issue a simple apology to clear up the misunderstanding.

    I do wonder however, as a woman and a fellow Northerner, if there is not an unfair bias against Mrs McAleese. Would there have been the same outcry if it had been a man or a woman from another province or provenance? The vitriol she receives regularly is appalling.

    • Eddie Finnegan

      Mary, glad to see Breda’s piece posted here and on the ACI Facebook page. Many of Breda’s columns stick in my craw and I’m not normally a fan. Ar an lámh eile, most of what Mary McAleese has to say would normally get three, or at least two cheers from me. So no vitriol from this non-woman but fellow Northerner. I picked up ‘Love and Responsibility’ in Westminster Cathedral bookshop when JPII was due to visit in 1982. Found it fairly heavy going in spots and passed it on to our school’s RE Dept probably the same year. But I know what the young Karol was saying and not saying. I have a feeling that somewhere in the underworld he has spent this Month of the Holy Souls pointing that jabbing finger of blame at Fr Seán Fagan for misleading the ex-President who still maintains that he refused to shake hands with her in 1999, though the Irish Independent reporter on the spot reported very differently.


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