Mary McAleese recalls how priest ‘lambasted’ her mother for having hysterectomy

Former president backs call to lift church ban on artificial contraception

Mary McAleese recalls how priest ‘lambasted’ her mother for having hysterectomy

Mary McAleese in Dublin earlier this year | Photo:

Contraception has been criticised as an “attack on fertility” by one of the country's most prominent Catholic theologian.

Fr Vincent Twomey, professor emeritus of moral theology at Maynooth, was speaking after 144 Catholic academics called for the church’s ban on artificial contraception to be reversed.

Mary McAleese was among a number of Irish scholars who backed the statement, which will be launched in New York tomorrow by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The document states that using modern contraceptives can be a "responsible and ethical decision and even, at times, an ethical imperative".

In her endorsement, the canon lawyer and former president described how her own mother was affected by the church's control over family size.  

"I still remember the evening our parish priest, in front of us children, lambasted my 40-year-old mother for having had a hysterectomy without his permission and while still of childbearing age," she wrote.

"She had by then had 11 pregnancies and a history of hemorrhages which had left her dangerously ill and chronically weak.

"He left her in a spiritual agony which lingers even today."

Mrs McAleese added that members of the church were "infantilised and robbed" by the Humanae Vitae proscription of their ability to make sensible adult decisions.

"The damage inflicted particularly on the poor, on women, on children, on relationships, on health, on society and not least on the church itself, is a millstone around our necks and we are drowning," she said.

'Goodness of fertility'

However, Fr Twomey insisted that there were biblical grounds to support current Catholic teaching.

In an interview on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show, he said: “The Old Testament is a paean to the goodness of fertility.

"The idea of infertility or sterility was considered a curse, as something to be avoided."

Contraception has led to a “demographic winter” by separating fertility from sexuality, the former Maynooth professor claimed.

"A Jewish scholar I heard recently described the suicide of Europe; we are not producing enough to allow future generations to continue," he said.

Fr Twomey also praised natural planning, the birth control method that involves abstaining from sex at times when women are most fertile.

"Men must be sufficiently self-controlled," he said, adding that this option "enriched" couples by deepening their love for one another.