Historic special relationship now changed irrevocably


ANALYSIS:The closure of the Irish Embassy will be seen in the context of a decline in relations following the reports into clerical child sex abuse

NO MATTER how it is put, money-saving exercise or otherwise, the decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Holy See will be seen in the context of a deterioration in relations between Rome and Dublin since the publication of the Murphy report in November 2009. The third of four statutory reports on the abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Ireland, it followed an inquiry into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in the Dublin archdiocese.

On its publication the Irish public became aware for the first time that the Vatican did not acknowledge correspondence from the Murphy commission. It also learned that subsequent correspondence by the commission with the papal nunciature in Dublin was also ignored. Such was the outcry that then minister for foreign affairs Micheál Martin summoned the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, to Iveagh House.

Two months later Archbishop Leanza refused to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs to explain Rome’s non-cooperation with the Murphy commission.

His refusal was described at the time as “scandalous”, “deeply regrettable” and “incomprehensible” by current Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. It rested there.

On July 13th last the Cloyne report was published. It revealed that when the investigating commission wrote to the papal nunciature in Dublin on this occasion, Archbishop Leanza replied – but to say he was “unable to assist” it.

The Cloyne report accused the Vatican, through its opposition to the Irish bishops’ 1996 guidelines on handling clerical child sex abuse, of giving comfort to dissenters in the church who did not want to implement them. In a secret 1997 letter to the Irish bishops, Rome described the 1996 rules as “merely a study document” and not official.

Once again Archbishop Leanza was summoned to Iveagh House, this time to meet Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore. He was told by Gilmore that Vatican intervention in Irish affairs was “totally inappropriate, unjustified and unacceptable . . . even within the context of the arrangements of the church itself”. The effect was that the “the abuse of children in this country was not reported to the authorities”, he said. He asked for an explanation.

That same day, July 14th last, Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the Vatican’s approach to clerical abuse inquiries in Ireland as “absolutely disgraceful”.

Six days later, on July 20th, he delivered his extraordinary address to the Dáil on Cloyne.

The report had “brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture,” he said. It exposed “an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic . . . as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.”

The report excavated “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . the narcissism . . . that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day”. Far from “listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal . . . the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer”, he said.

Five days later Archbishop Leanza was recalled to Rome. He has since been posted to the Czech Republic.

On September 3rd the Vatican issued a 25-page response to the Cloyne report and comments by the Tánaiste and Taoiseach, rejecting claims it had interfered in Irish affairs or inquiries.

That response was described by the Tánaiste as “highly technical, highly legalistic, very much dancing on the head of a pin”.

The Taoiseach said his criticisms of the Vatican “still stand”.

Currently there is no papal nuncio in Ireland, or to Ireland.