Folly of closing Embassy to the Holy See

 

OPINION:The Government’s decision to close the Irish Embassy in the Vatican is short-sighted, writes VINCENT TWOMEY

THE GOVERNMENT’s decision to close the Embassy to the Holy See, reducing Ireland’s diplomatic representation to second-class status, should be a cause of concern not only for Catholics, but for all citizens.

Apart from the Chinese, diplomats and statesmen everywhere must be shaking their heads at the closure of a resident diplomatic mission in what has been described as one of the most important “listening posts” in the diplomatic world.

It is ironic that, soon after Russia’s long-term special resident envoy to the Holy See was raised to full ambassador, soon after Britain upgraded its newly established mission to the Holy See, and almost immediately following Australia’s decision to open a resident mission, Ireland should close its Embassy.

What should be of concern to all of us, is the narrow-minded, parochial nature of our foreign policy that cannot see the bigger picture and recognise the importance of the Holy See as a major player in the world of statesmanship. Even Arab states have come to see the importance of relations with the Holy See and have recently entered into diplomatic relations with it.

Statesmanship, the capacity to rise above local politics and immediate issues for the sake of a greater good, would seem to be sadly lacking in our Government.

Considering the fact that the Holy See was among the first to recognise the newly independent Irish Free State, to close it down for the sake of a paltry sum of money is, as might be said on our neighbouring island, not cricket. In other words, it is in bad taste.

Even on economic grounds it could be argued that there may well be a price to be paid in the long run: Irish businesses, especially subcontractors, who tender for business overseas tend to get the contracts, I gather, in the face of other competitors, all other things being equal. This is because of the debt so many of the countries of Africa and Asia feel toward Ireland as a Catholic country, whose priests, nuns, brothers and laity laid the foundation for their educational and health services – and who educated most of their present- day leaders. If our Government shows no respect to that patrimony, why should they?

Finally, it was reported recently that the Government would not be extending an invitation to the Pope for the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin next year. But it is not in their gift to issue or not to issue invitations to such events. If Pope Benedict XVI were to come, it would be at the invitation of the Irish bishops or on his own initiative. In this case, he would normally be received as a head of state. Are we to understand that our Taoiseach is unwilling to extend that courtesy to the Pope?

No wonder the semi-official Chinese newspaper praised the Taoiseach’s attack on the Pope. They will be very pleased to hear of downgrading of diplomatic relations. They too want a Chinese national church free of the influence of Rome, a church controlled by the state and hence subservient to the state. Presumably this is not the aim of our Government, but one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.


Father D Vincent Twomey is professor emeritus of moral theology, Maynooth, and author of The End of Irish Catholicism?

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