For the 14 years of her presidency, Mary McAleese was obliged to keep her faith and opinions private and separate from her public role. Now, in her first televised interview since leaving office, in her home on the banks of the Shannon, she speaks to Gay Byrne with extraordinary candour about how her life has shaped - and been shaped by - her beliefs and attitudes.
Since leaving the Áras an Uachtaráin, the former law professor has been in Rome, studying for a qualification in canon law. In Quo Vadis?, a book to be published in October, Mary McAleese puts this expertise to use, forensically examining, and challenging, the record of Catholic leaders in fulfilling their own stated aspirations to introduce a more "collegiate" approach to Church governance.
Why should such ecclesiastical and legalistic technicalities pre-occupy the former President of Ireland? Well, as she explains to Gay Byrne, like a great many committed Catholics, she finds herself clinging on by her finger-tips to membership of the Catholic Church. Her faith is not in question. She meditates and goes to Mass daily; she goes on annual retreat to a convent in Ennis; Christianity is at the core of everything in her life. However, all too often, she finds that faith at odds with the structures and leadership of the Church which, she has always been taught, is the body of Christ. Not only does she feel that voices like hers are not being listened to in her Church, they are being actively silenced in a culture of "creeping infallibility." Her book and this interview is a critique of that culture, but it is also a direct plea to the Pope to change the way the Church is run.