Our man at the Vatican


Sir, – Your Religious Affairs Correspondent, Patsy McGarry (Opinion, February 24th) seems rather upset that a broad range of Irish opinion has dared to question the wisdom of the Government’s decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Holy See. He stoutly defends Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore from the criticisms of this decision that have been made by Fine Gael backbenchers as well as their Fianna Fáil opponents.

He reserves particular venom for a mysterious unnamed group of people whom he refers to as “the usual suspects, lay voices who make a living from defending the church” (Whomever could he mean? I would have thought that a much better living is to be had in modern Ireland from attacking the church!). He dismisses as surprising the interventions of the distinguished former Irish diplomats Sean Donlon and Michael Lillis.

He fails completely to address the substantive arguments made by opponents of the closure concerning the issue of the damage it has done and is doing to Ireland’s international reputation (particularly when combined with the Taoiseach’s ill-advised megaphone diplomacy last year). He concludes with a call for “common sense”, a quality which he apparently finds lacking in those on the opposite side of the argument to himself.

Opponents of the closure will, however, take some satisfaction from Mr McGarry’s perhaps unwitting contribution of giving the lie to the disingenuous protestations of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other Government apologists that the decision to close the embassy was taken solely on economic and financial grounds.

Having taken the opportunity, once again, to trot out his own rather tendentious summary of the Dublin and Cloyne reports, your correspondent leaves his readers in no doubt that he believes that the closure of the embassy was intended as a considered Government response to what it perceived as the failures of the Vatican in its handling of clerical child abuse complaints and not, as the Government continues to maintain, the economic or financial situation.

In this respect at least he demonstrates that common sense is not absent from the debate on this issue. – Yours, etc,


Brackenbush Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Patsy McGarry’s piece (Opinion, February 24th) urging common sense about the Vatican embassy closure was helpful and clear. However, I am surprised at how focused the debate is on the embassy itself and not on the more important question of whether it is, at any level, right for the Holy See to enjoy the privilege of statehood.

Somewhere the question of whether there is a role for nation- state diplomacy in the church’s mission seems lost. The church’s ministry can surely be exercised anywhere its followers witness to the values they hold. Faith and human values survive not because of crozier or embassy, but because of people who live by them. The fact that the church can or potentially might use diplomatic privilege to avoid questions or shield its elite is wrong and is an example of where use of power weakens moral authority.

Personally, I have never been comfortable with the papacy as a civil power. It seems to me that the trappings of statehood inhibit rather than serve the gospel. Is it time for prophetic Catholics, lay and cleric, to ask if it should end this antithesis to gospel values or watch as it is stripped away by others?

I suspect that some in the Vatican fear that what our Government has done might increase the risk of that question being asked widely. No doubt many will see my view as an attack on church. For me, it is a consideration of the gospel metaphor about fresh skins for new wine. – Yours, etc,


Griffinrath Hall,


Co Kildare.