The Irish government’s decision to close its embassy to the Vatican has dismayed the few million Catholics in Ireland and many more around the world. Letters to the Irish print media in the past few days – from Ireland and further afield – have expressed a mixture of anger and resentment at what many see as a small-minded attempt to further justify the petulant and intemperate attack made by the Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny on the Holy See last July. Others see it as a more sinister volley in an ongoing campaign by the left-liberal wing of the Irish coalition government to further undermine adherence of Irish people to the Catholic faith.
John P McCarthy, Professor Emeritus of History, Fordham University, New York, (Irish Times, 5/11/11) puts his finger on what some see as the kernel of the issue when he suggests what he thinks is the real source of the Irish coalition government’s hostility to the Vatican: “Might the Taoiseach’s rhetoric of last summer have emboldened the secular fundamentalism of some of his coalition partners?”
For another correspondent to the paper the decision smacks of a secularist talibanesque act of wanton destruction of something of deep historic significance in the landscape of Ireland’s international relations. “The closing of the Irish Embassy to the Vatican… is, I suggest, a sad reflection on this Government’s sense of historical, cultural and religious values”, wrote Dr. John Cooney of Monaghan.
“It is one of our oldest embassies, having been established in 1929 on the creation of the Vatican State as a result of the Lateran Treaty with Italy and in the early days of our own Irish government. The Vatican had been one of the first entities to recognise the Irish State.” He continued: “At a time when countries such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Pakistan are opening embassies to the Vatican, we, still a Christian country with a majority Roman Catholic population, welcoming also those of other faiths and none, chose to close ours. The fact that we are closing it now, after our Taoiseach’s unprecedented verbal attack on the Vatican, delivered in the Dáil, will be interpreted by most intelligent people both here and abroad as a further demonstration of our official contempt for the Vatican and indeed for the Roman Catholic Church of which it is the symbol and centre of the magisterium or official teachings of the church.”
Donal Deasy, writing from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada, contrasts this decision with the Vatican’s decision to continue placing its nunciature to China and Taiwan in Taipei, Taiwan. “Taiwan is democratic. China is communist. While the vast majority of countries including Ireland have followed the dollar to Beijing, overlooking a few intangible human rights issues, the Vatican maintains a lonely but noble stand in defence of what some of us still consider to be priceless values.”
Ireland’s “paper of record”, The Irish Times, seeks to assure its readers that the Irish government’s decision is not an ideologically driven move. Not everyone is convinced.
People, it said, who seek to link the closure with an assault by the Labour Party on the Catholic Church and its control of national schools, have got it wrong. “Such ‘reds-under-the-bed’ language has little relevance.”
The Irish Times may be a paper of record but records cut a number of ways and the “B” side – or is it the “A” side – of this particular record shows clearly that The Irish Times is often little more than an apologist for the liberal secularist ascendancy which dominates Irish political life. People trust its judgement on many things, but this is one area where it consistently proves itself to be very suspect.
The paper admits that there is “little doubt the Cloyne report on clerical child sex abuse, highly charged exchanges between the Taoiseach and the Vatican concerning unwarranted interference in this State and the recall of the papal nuncio have all contributed to the closure of Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See. Difficult fiscal circumstances may have provided official justification for the decision but it overlaid a deep chill in relations between the Catholic Church and the Government.”
So far so good. But the paper’s religious affairs correspondent, Mr. Patsy McGarry, in his opinion piece the day after the announcement, provided its readers with a very tendentious account of events leading to this decision.
In his analysis he was rather selective in his presentation of the facts of the case. For example, he stated (correctly) that the Murphy Commission, when investigating child abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin, wrote to the Vatican seeking relevant information. But he leads his readers to believe that the Vatican ignored this request. It didn’t.
The Vatican contacted the Irish Government upon receiving the request and asked the Government to ask the Murphy Commission to put its request through the normal diplomatic channels. When an Irish court writes for information to a foreign court, this is what happens.
Further on in his piece, Mr McGarry tells us, again correctly, that the Vatican described the Irish Church’s 1996 child protection guidelines as a “study document”. But he doesn’t tell us that this is how the Irish bishops themselves described it to the Vatican.
He also tells us of the Vatican’s “opposition” to the guidelines. This is an exaggeration. The Congregation for Clergy, from which the Vatican response originated, had a reservation about mandatory reporting, just as the then Irish Government had.
Towards the end of his article Mr McGarry simply repeats the most lurid lines from the Taoiseach’s attack on the Vatican without substantiating the Taoiseach’s accusations and without giving any details of the Vatican’s measured and detailed rebuttal.
There are Irish people muttering now that they detect a concerted campaign in Irish political circles to de-couple Irish society from its allegiance to anything “Catholic” in its culture – , laws governing education, marriage, procreation, health, etc. For some, up until now, this has smacked of scare-mongering, a “reds-under-the-bed” mentality as the Irish times would have it. For many it is no longer so. Mr. Kenny’s July speech may have been a watershed moment in more ways than one. In it he proclaimed himself a “practising Catholic”. Some recall that King Henry VIII saw himself living and dying as a “practising Catholic”. Despite that he succeeded in tearing the Catholic heart out of England. He failed to do so in Ireland, and Ireland resisted his successors’ efforts to do so for 500 years. Will Enda Kenny – unwittingly, perhaps – succeed in doing what Henry VIII failed to do?