Vatican runs risk of tilting at windmills
When it comes to controversial “local” issues, however, (even if abortion is clearly much more than a “local” issue), the Holy See pays very close attention to the nuncio and the most senior church figures in the land, in this case Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
Vatican insiders argue, however, that the nuncio’s input may weigh heaviest given that some curia figures tend to see Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin as the men who keep on turning up in Rome with another damning clerical sex abuse report under their arms.
Archbishop Brown also worked for 11 years alongside the pope at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It remains to be seen how active a role the nuncio intends to play in the abortion debate. Privately, he has told friends that after just one year in Dublin, both he and the Irish church could have done without such a controversial debate, adding, however, that the church did not go “looking for this one”.
His New Year’s Day intervention served as a reminder that while the nuncio is technically a diplomat, he remains first and foremost a card-carrying conveyor of the line decreed by the pope.
Those Vatican observers familiar with the subtleties and complex legal considerations of the Irish abortion issue, however, argue that this may be one situation where the church runs the risk of charging at windmills.
In other words, the Holy See has bought the line that the Government’s proposed legislation will end up as a “thin end of the wedge measure” that will enshrine abortion on demand, rather than merely codify already restrictive abortion legislation, in the process protecting doctors and health workers.
The activisim of the anti-abortion movement, of clerics such as Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore and of senior legal experts such as Prof William Binchy, may have helped fog up the Holy See’s looking glass.
Anyone who left Ireland back in the early 1980s could have been forgiven for a sense of déjà vu if they returned after a 30-year break this Christmas.
There was Prof Binchy, and others, still beating an anti-abortion drum, just as they did in the “abortion amendment” campaign in the early 80s.
One suspects there are people in Rome who would like to hit the delete button on the last 20 years of sea change in Ireland and pretend that this is still a great little Catholic country. As we said, the Holy See has not given up on Ireland.
PADDY AGNEWis Rome correspondent