The leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore, is at the centre of a row with the Catholic hierarchy after he refused to apologise for criticism he made of Pope Benedict's teachings on homosexuality in a recent newspaper interview.
This has prompted the head of the Catholic Communications Office, Martin Long, to accuse Gilmore of being unwilling to accept he made a mistake. Long said Gilmore had "misrepresented" comments made by the Pope. However, a spokesman for Gilmore has strongly denied this and Gilmore has refused to apologise.
The disagreement centres around a recent Irish Examiner interview during which Gilmore was reported to have asked Benedict to "temper" statements on homosexuality as his hard-line stance encouraged discrimination.
"We have many examples of where there is not only discrimination against gay people, but there has been nasty homophobic bullying and assaults on gay people and I think opinions like that give comfort to that," Gilmore said.
Long subsequently issued a press release in which he angrily sought to refute Gilmore's comments, claiming he appeared to have been referring to an address by Benedict to cardinals, bishops and priests delivered on 22 December 2008.
This speech was, he said, "subsequently interpreted incorrectly by some media outlets."
Long told the Sunday Tribune that, by the middle of last week – a week after writing to Gilmore personally to highlight his concerns – he had yet to receive an acknowledgement of the communication.
"I think that is indicative of Gilmore's attitude. The fact is that homosexuality was not referred to anywhere in this text. It seems that Deputy Gilmore didn't read the Holy Father's address, which was widely misinterpreted. What we have here is just an attempt to pigeonhole the Catholic church's teaching on human sexuality," he said. "Unfortunately, when a mistake is made, especially by a leading politician, it should be rectified."
Gilmore's spokesman confirmed that Long had sent a copy of his statement to Gilmore, but had not given any indication that he was seeking a response.
"Eamon Gilmore did not quote the Pope's speech. The speech and the interpretation put on it by many people were put to him by the journalist conducting the interview," he said.
"We note the interpretation of the Pope's comments given by Martin Long. We also note that others, including members of the gay community, have interpreted them in a different way."