Former Irish President Mary McAleese has warned that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality is "evil."
Mrs McAleese will be taking part in tomorrow’s Dublin Pride Parade.
The two-term President was speaking at an event in Navan, County Meath this afternoon.
In a wide-ranging talk, she also said arguments against women in the priesthood are "untenable” – and labelled Pope Francis a disappointment when it comes to women’s rights.
She remains a practising Catholic, but she views the church’s teaching on homosexuality as another dark chapter in the church’s history.
“The Catholic church’s teaching on homosexuality is in my view evil,” she said.
“It conduces to homophobia; homophobia is evil; it ruins people’s lives, it has ruined families lives, it has caused people to commit suicide, it has caused people to live in dark shadows, so unsure of themselves."
The Irish Government last week apologised to gay men who had been criminalised for homosexual acts – as recently as 25 years ago.
Highlighting the experiences of her son Justin McAleese, a married gay man, she said the church has a lot to answer for.
“He used to rush out in the morning; he was the first out to mass, loved being an altar boy, loved the church; loved the magic and the mystique of it.
“That is un-Christian; that is worse than uncharitable in my view; that has to stop.
“The only person who can actually stop that, strangely enough, is the Pope.”
On the issue of women in the priesthood, the former president said the church is “so far behind the curve that it is embarrassing.”
She said she has great difficulty with the idea that the prohibition is a “matter of infallible doctrine” – noting that it was never declared as such by the Pope, but rather was decided by consensus of the College of Bishops around the world.
“That is what our church taught and we have to be big enough and generous enough and also honest enough to say that we got a lot of things wrong,” she said.
“That our church got a lot of things wrong and in saying that then we must struggle to get them right.”
The 35th annual Pride Parade takes place in Dublin tomorrow – speeches begin at 12pm with the parade making its way across the city from 2pm.