Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny at a news conference following a meeting of European leaders in Brussels in June 2011. (CNS photo/Reuters)
The Irish Government is coming under increased pressure to
reverse a controversial decision to close the country’s Embassy to the Holy
Dozens of parliamentarians including many from the Fine Gael and Labour coalition parties - attended a meeting in Dublin January 18 called to highlight opposition to the closure and some 96,000 postcards have been sent to Prime Minister Enda Kenny by members of several different lay initiatives and individual Catholics protesting the move.
‘Ireland Stand Up’ is campaigning for the closure of the embassy to be reversed
and for the Government to issue an invitation for Pope Benedict XVI to visit
Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore announced in November 2011 that the Government
had decided to close the Embassy to the Vatican citing pressure on government
finances. However, it was widely regarded as a snub to the Holy See and to Pope
Benedict XVI following a row over a judicial report into mishandling of abuse
in the Cloyne Diocese.
The report issued in July 2011 said the Vatican had been “entirely
unhelpful” to Irish bishops drawing up guidelines to tackle abuse. It cited a
letter from then Papal Nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Luciano Storero which told
Irish bishops that an insistence on mandatory reporting of allegations might
contravene Canon Law.
Prime Minister Kenny made an unprecedented attack accusing the Vatican of
adopting a “calculated, withering position”. During a July 20 parliamentary
debate, Mr. Kenny said the “Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction,
disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the
Vatican to this day,” he said.
The report, published July 13, found that Cloyne Bishop John Magee, a former
secretary to three popes, paid “little or no attention” to child safeguarding
as recently as 2008. It said he falsely told the Government that his diocese
was reporting all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil
authorities. It also found that the bishop deliberately misled another inquiry
and his own advisers by creating two different accounts - one for the Vatican
and the other for diocesan files - of a meeting with a priest-suspect.
Mr. Kenny’s speech led the Vatican to formally recall Papal Nuncio Archbishop
Giuseppe Leanza to prepare a response but also to note “surprise and
disappointment at certain excessive reactions”.
When the Vatican did issue a comprehensive 25-page response highlighting
inaccuracies in the Prime Minister’s speech and pointing out that Ireland had
consistently refused to legislate for mandatory reporting, it was dismissed by
the Government as “too legalistic”. Within weeks the closure of the Holy See
Embassy was announced.
Now, in an embarrassing twist for the Government, almost a third (82 of 226)
members of parliament attended the protest meeting organised by Catholic lay
group ‘Ireland Stand Up’. Minister for Europe Lucinda Creighton, who was the
most senior Government figure to attend the meeting, told Catholic World
“I think it’s important that the
Government is aware that there’s a very strong, and important and sizeable
amount of people who are disappointed with the decision and want to see it
overturned and who clearly aren’t happy.
“I’m very much committed to ensuring that at a point in the future when we’re
in a position to do it, that we will re-open our embassy to the Holy See,” she
Minister Creighton insisted that an Embassy to the Holy See is “very important,
not just for Catholics in Ireland, but for the Department of Foreign Affairs
“Our foreign policy agenda is at one with the Vatican. When it comes to the
priorities for us, human rights, hunger, all of these freedoms that we promote
all over the world, particularly in Africa, we do it hand in hand, side by side
with the Vatican.
“For that reason, from a strictly foreign affairs perspective, I think it would
be very desirable in the future to step up our relations with the Vatican
again. Now is obviously not going to be possible, but certainly in due
course... At that point, I’ll certainly be one of the loud voices calling for
it to happen,” she said.
Colm Keaveney, a representative for the Labour Party who’s Minister for Foreign
Affairs Eamon Gilmore made the decision rejected the claim that the closure
was necessary for economic reasons. “It’s very easy to say we can’t afford
this, I believe we can afford this,” he told the meeting.
The postcard campaign, which is being coordinated by ‘Ireland Stand Up’, is
also calling on the Government to invite Pope Benedict XVI to Dublin to preside
at the International Eucharistic Congress which will be held in June.
The Holy See was one of the first states that Ireland established full
diplomatic relations with in 1929, just seven years after winning independence
from Britain. However, when the first ambassador Joseph Walshe was presenting
his credentials to Pope Pius XI in 1929 he spoke of “re-establishing” the
relationship. He was referring to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, first
papal nuncio to Ireland, sent by Pope Innocent X to help the Irish Confederate
Catholics in their war against English Protestant rule.
Irish Catholics have been bruised and bloodied in recent years by the seemingly
endless stream of revelations about clerical sexual abuse and the often
reckless mishandling of allegations by bishops and religious superiors. The
hierarchy’s reputation lies in tatters. Referring to the Church in Ireland Pope
Benedict himself has noted that the scandals “have obscured the light of the
Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing”.
The energy around the campaign to restore the Holy See Embassy has surprised
many. “Ordinary Catholics seem to have found a voice around this issue,” notes
David Quinn of the think-tank The Iona Institute.
Mr. Quinn told Catholic World Report
that “the campaign may well be evidence that Catholics realize they must stand
up if their voice is to be heard”.
Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, Mr. Quinn believes, “the shattered reputation
of the hierarchy may succeed in convincing laypeople to become more involved in
defending their faith”.
Spokesperson for ‘Ireland Stand Up’ Mary Fitzgibbon said she has been overwhelmed
by the support of Catholics across Ireland for their campaign. She was also
heartened by the positive reaction of so many lawmakers. “I think they are
taking it very seriously. They were very much open to dialogue,” she said.
In a sign of just how serious the campaign is been taken at Government level
the country’s most senior diplomat David Cooney was also present to listen to
concerns, which he promised to bring to the Foreign Minister. A senior adviser
to Prime Minister Kenny, John Kennedy, also met representatives from the group.
Opposition politicians are also determined that the issue will not be allowed
to be ignored. SeÁn Ó Fearghaíl, Foreign Affairs spokesman for the main Fianna
FÁil opposition party has accused the Government of “playing politics with a
very important relationship”.
He said “many people throughout the country practicing Catholics and also
those who have a respect for the role the Church plays in world affairs are
hurt and offended by the closure of the Embassy to the Vatican,” Mr. Ó
Mr. Ó Fearghaíl’s assessment is borne out by many of the people who turned up
to lobby their politicians. One woman, who wished to be identified only as
Mary, said: “I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. Like everyone else
I’ve been annoyed and upset by the scandals, but the decision to close the
Embassy to the Holy See is silly point-scoring. We have to take a stance”.
Documents recently released under Ireland’s Freedom of Information (FoI)
legislation also indicate that the Government is significantly out-of-step with
Irish public opinion on the issue. The records show that the decision was met
with overwhelming opposition from the public with over 93% criticizing the
Writing on the embassy closure, one member of the public claimed Mr. Gilmore
had a “raw hatred” of the Catholic Church and compared him to Oliver Cromwell
who was responsible for persecution of Irish Catholics during the seventeenth
Another claimed the Government was using the clerical child sexual abuse
scandals as “cover” to wage a “vendetta” against the Church.
Several citizens questioned the economic rationale that the Foreign Minister
put forward for closing the embassy, and said Ireland’s foreign policy efforts
would ultimately suffer.
The released records showed that that 93.1% of the responses were critical with
6.9% of the correspondence received being supportive.
For his part Mr. Gilmore appears to be adopting a softer line than his initial
stance, with his spokesman insisting “he would have preferred if Ireland could
have maintained an embassy to the Holy See.
“However, given the economic situation and a very tight budget for running such
missions, it was one of the regrettable decisions that we had to make,” the
It’s too soon to say whether or not ‘Ireland Stand Up’ represents a sign of a
resurgent lay faithful in Ireland. The Church in the land of saints and
scholars could certainly do with a shot in the arm. Much has changed since
Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini (later Pope Paul VI) told Irish officials
in 1946 “you are the most Catholic country in the world!” Ireland is currently
in the grip of the same tide of secularism that is affecting most of the
Western world. Bowed by a combination of the dominant secular culture and
scandal the Church has struggled to find a voice. ‘Ireland Stand Up’ just might
be the beginning of a green shoot of hope.
writes from Dublin.)