A new nuncio

 

THE VATICAN’S appointment of an Irish American as its new papal nuncio to Ireland is welcome news and reflects the seriousness of Rome’s intent to put relations between itself and this State on an altogether new footing. That Msgr Charles Brown is not a usual Vatican diplomat but comes with a background at the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), most uncommon for a papal nuncio, is an indication of the thought Rome has put into this appointment.

At the CDF since 1994 where he worked for 11 years with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then dean of that congregation, before the latter was elected Pope in 2005, Msgr Brown is not only familiar with the Pope’s thinking but also with the church’s response to the issue of clerical child sexual abuse.

In 2001, in an attempt to bring uniformity into how that issue was being dealt with by the worldwide church, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to all Catholic bishops asking that they refer to the CDF all credible allegations of such abuse. He and the CDF would then decide whether these should be dealt with locally or by Rome. This meant that, very soon, no other Vatican congregation was as familiar with the issue as a phenomenon within the Church as was the CDF.

Thus, Msgr Brown will arrive in Ireland with two major advantages over very many of his predecessors as papal nuncio. As an Irish American he will have an intuitive understanding of the Catholic people of this State and of this island. As a man who has served at the CDF for 17 years he will be deeply familiar with the issue that has plagued the Irish Catholic Church for almost two decades.

But his appointment should be welcome for other reasons. It will mark a new beginning and the resumption of more normal diplomatic relations between Ireland and Rome. In the furore over the Government’s decision to close Irelands Embassy to the Holy See some have assumed that it marked an end to diplomatic relations between this State and the Vatican. That was never the case. As the Government announced at the time, Ireland will maintain its diplomatic relations with the Vatican and its ambassador to the Holy See, resident in Dublin, will be the most senior figure in the Department of Foreign Affairs, its secretary general.

For the majority of our citizens and for most Catholics on this island, the announcement of Msgr Brown’s appointment will be welcomed as an opportunity to make a fresh start in relations with the Holy See.