Vatican runs risk of tilting at windmills
ANALYSIS:Rome wants to turn back the clock in Ireland but the church may have the wrong take on the abortion issue
The Holy See has not given up on Ireland. Despite two tempestuous decades of clerical sex abuse scandals, marked by the Irish Catholic Church’s unprecedented loss of credibility and moral authority, there are those in the Vatican who would still like to believe that Ireland can resume its once “proud” role of last bastion of traditional, conservative Catholicism in an increasingly atheist western Europe.
When Pope Benedict XVI last Monday spoke of his dismay that “in various countries, even those of Christian tradition, efforts are being made to introduce or expand legislation which decriminalises abortion”, it was hard not to see this as a specific reference to Ireland.
While it is true that the pope never misses an opportunity to reaffirm the church’s total repudiation of abortion, this comment seemed to go further.
After all, how many countries “of Christian tradition” are currently involved in “introducing or expanding” abortion legislation?
Uruguay, it is true, spent most of 2012 engaged in a bitter abortion debate, but that came to an end in October when it became the second country in Latin America, after Cuba, to legalise abortion.
Apart from that, the only legal initiatives on the horizon concern a series of controversial Bills introduced by Republicans in Virginia, basically aiming to restrict women’s access to abortion and birth control rather than “expand” them.
The pope’s remarks last Monday were made in the context of his keynote speech to the Vatican diplomatic corps.
In another keynote speech, his World Day of Peace speech released last month, the pope had also argued that those who support abortion “insufficiently value human life”.
Not for nothing, this theme was taken up by papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown at a World Peace Day Mass in Dublin on New Year’s Day, a Mass attended by President Michael D Higgins and many senior politicians.
The logic of this is that, when it comes to Ireland or just about any other country, the nuncio is the pope’s point man.
When it comes to Irish issues, usually of a clerical sexual abuse nature, the pope has relied on the advice of a small group of senior curia figures – American Peter Wells, a sort of home affairs minister; Moroccan-born Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister; Italian Msgr Ettore Balestrero, the number two at the foreign desk, and Scottish Msgr Leo Cushley, head of the English desk in the secretariat of state and a man who played a key role in the preparation of the pope’s March 2010 letter to the Irish faithful.