The Irish Times view on Leo Varadkar’s ‘sinful’ slur: all over the gaffe

The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests wondered – fairly – if the Taoiseach would have said such a thing about a Church of Ireland minister

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was scheduled to meet church leaders the day after comparing Micheál Martin to a “secretly sinning priest”. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/ARP/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was scheduled to meet church leaders the day after comparing Micheál Martin to a “secretly sinning priest”. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/ARP/Getty Images

 

Fortunately for Leo Varadkar, the timing of his latest faux pas was not quite as ominous as it might have been for former taoisigh. As a thing to be feared by politicians, the “belt of the crozier” was decommissioned some years ago. That Varadkar was scheduled to meet church leaders the day after comparing Micheál Martin to a “secretly sinning priest” was, like his previous gaffes, merely embarrassing.

Even so, it did make you wonder again about the judgment of a man who would take such a cheap shot at a target so far removed from the context. The Catholic Church has many things to answer for, but delays in the upgrade of the Dunkettle Interchange – the catalyst for his outburst – are hardly among them. Leaving the question of sin aside for a moment, perhaps the Taoiseach could plead that there is something priest-like in the Fianna Fáil leader’s manner. Certainly, in the wake of the incident, Martin took to the moral high ground like a natural, forgiving Varadkar but also correcting any suggestion that the comments had arisen during angry exchanges.

The tone of the debate was not “bitter or personal”, he insisted, mildly, with the air of a man recommending that the Taoiseach say an Our Father and three Hail Marys. It was left to such TDs as Mattie McGrath and Mary Butler to play the part that the crozier once would have, condemning Varadkar’s remarks as “outrageous” and “simply unacceptable”. The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests wondered – fairly – if the Taoiseach would have said such a thing about a Church of Ireland minister.

Among other things, the incident highlighted a latter-day shift in the balance of power between two great pillars of Irish life. In extremes of ill health now, most people would send for the doctor first and the priest second (if at all), not the other way around. Still, Catholic traditionalists may take some comfort from Dr Varadkar’s subsequent chastening. He didn’t have to exchange his sharp suits for sackcloth after the incident, but he did end the week by making an act of full, and apparently sincere, contrition.

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