Kenny to meet Pope Francis five years after scathing Dáil speech

Taoiseach decried ‘dysfunction, disconnection and narcissism’ of Holy See in 2011

In July 2011 Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued this scathing attack on the Vatican in the wake of a report into the abuse of children in the Diocese of Cloyne.


Arguably, the final curtain on a difficult period for relations between the Holy See and the Government comes down Monday when Pope Francis receives Enda Kenny in a private audience in the Vatican.

The symbolism of an audience for the Taoiseach who, five years ago, in the Dáil denounced the “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism” of the Holy See in its handling of the clerical sex abuse crisis could hardly be clearer.

This will not be the first time Mr Kenny has met with the pope as he had a brief encounter with him in the Vatican in April 2014, on the occasion of the dual canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.

It will, however, be Mr Kenny’s first one-on-one audience with the pope in the Apostolic Palace.

Past taoisigh – John Bruton in 1995 and Bertie Ahern in 2005 – were granted such audiences, respectively with John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Migration crisis

Essentially, the Taoiseach will want to talk to the pope about his August 2018 visit to Dublin for the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families.

Not only will he confirm the Government’s welcome and support for the meeting but he may also want to encourage the pope to extend his visit outside Dublin, perhaps to Northern Ireland.

Speculation about such a papal visit has been a constant over the past 30 years, given that – during his 1979 visit – Pope John Paul II was not able to travel to the North, stopping short of the Border at Drogheda.

Even if such a trip into another “jurisdiction” presents a myriad of diplomatic and cross-community problems, those would represent precisely the sort of problems that the pope repeatedly chooses to confront.

Talking to The Irish Times two weeks ago, Dublin-born Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the newly appointed head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said: “My understanding is that [the pope’s] intention would be to be visit the World Meeting of the Family in Dublin, a two-day trip, in and out, just like he did for Philadelphia. But I know nothing about whether or not he will extend that trip . . . Talk of him going to the North, or extending the trip, at this stage is pure speculation. I doubt if anybody in Rome has even thought about that yet . . . but that does not mean that Francis could not surprise us . . . ”

Inevitably, the pope and the Taoiseach will discuss a wide range of international issues of common concern, with particular emphasis on the migration crisis.

Obviously, too, when Mr Kenny sits down in the Apostolic Library on Monday, he will be talking to a different man from the former pope, Benedict XVI, who held the position when he launched his infamous broadside against the Holy See back in July 2011.

Speaking in the Dáil, one week after publication of the The Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne on clerical child sex abuse, he said: “Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’ . . . the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”

Residence rent

Within months of that speech, the Irish Embassy to the Holy See was closed in a move widely perceived to be a “poke” in the Vatican eye, even if the Government at the time attributed the decision to “economic” considerations.

Three years later, in January 2014, the Holy See embassy was re-opened with current Ambassador Emma Madigan taking over from David Cooney who had run the diplomatic mission on a non-residential basis from Foreign Affairs in Dublin in the intervening period.

When the new embassy was reopened, the Department of Foreign Affairs stated that it would be a “modest”, one-person operation, in keeping with the desire of Pope Francis for “a church of the poor, for the poor”.

In a Dáil response in 2015, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan revealed that the current embassy cost just €32,461 in 2014 – a relatively low figure.

That cost has since increased because the Department of Foreign Affairs listed an annual €64,000 residence rent for the Holy See embassy in its overall 2015 budget of €64 million.

Further embassy office costs can be expected in 2016.

After his meeting with the pope, Mr Kenny will also meet with the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

All in all, the Taoiseach is likely to be in the Vatican for approximately one hour – after which he will attend a brief reception in the Irish Embassy to the Holy See before flying back to Dublin on Monday afternoon.