Ireland: “Catholic Pride” Deals a Blow to the Government

By Giacomo Galeazzi
Vatican Insider
January 26, 2012

Irish Catholics

A Catholic wave has come crashing down on the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. In Dublin, 100,000 postcards were sent to the head of government in protest at the closure of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See. Two months ago, Ireland downgraded its representation in the Holy See from resident to non-resident.

The website of the international movement "We Are Church" reported a statement made by the Jesuit essayist, Fr. Brian Lennon, published in the Italian Jesuit monthly magazine Popoli. Fr. Lennon warned that “the government has got the time frame wrong: it was in 1998 that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Congregation for the Clergy, told the Irish bishops that the Vatican’s policy was to protect priests when they were accused.” According to the Government, this occurred within the last three years. “While it is a regrettable inaccuracy in such an important statement by the government, the minister’s words probably reflect the general indignation aroused by the revelations of the Cloyne Report,” Fr. Brian Lennon observed.

“The government’s decision to close its embassy in the Vatican is a symptom of the profound change in relations between Ireland and the Holy See. In the past, the Church had great influence in Irish society. Bishops and priests were treated with respect and could influence legislation on moral issues. Since the publication of the Reports on the abuse, clerical collars are frowned upon by many and wearers are sometimes insulted in the street.”

A problem that has emerged from this crisis is that many priests and religious persons feel guilty for what happened, “even if they are innocent, because they did not abuse anyone and never held positions of authority.” This, according to Fr. Lennon, “raises the question of collegial relationships: to what extent should innocent members of the Church take a share of responsibility for the actions of the organization they belong to? It is a regular matter of civil law and conflict situations: for example, whether or not young Germans born after 1945 should be asked to pay taxes to contribute to compensation for the people of Israel by the German state for the Holocaust, even though they were not born during the Second World War?”

A second issue raised by the crisis regards the structures governing the Church today. “The Bishop of Cloyne had been able to ignore the Framework Document of 1996 because it was a document from the Irish Conference of Bishops,” the Jesuit emphasized. “Individual bishops are not obligated to respond to the bishops’ conferences, nor are they accountable to any layman. They are accountable only to the Pope.

“Thus, the Conference of Bishops could not impose the Framework Document on the individual bishops, and this is a weakness in Church governance. However, it should also be remembered that the situation has improved since 1996: it was the priest in charge of the protection of children, acting for the Irish Conference of Bishops, who alerted the civil authorities so that they could take care of the protection of children in Cloyne. So, even if he did not have direct authority according to ecclesiastical law, he was still able to have a positive influence. It is a ray of light in an ugly situation.”

The decision to close the embassy in the Vatican was announced with a note from the Irish Foreign Ministry to the effect that the reasons were purely economic - so much so that in addition to the embassy at the Holy See, they are also closing embassies in Iran and East Timor. It is as if to say that for the very Catholic Ireland, representatives in Persia and in the former Portuguese colony have the same weight of office as in the capital of Christendom. That choice ended up not too far from the decision of the Holy See to withdraw its ambassador from Ireland after the decisive attack directed at the Vatican by Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny (one year after the publication of the Report on sexual abuse in the Church of Ireland) for the “distant, elitist, and narcissistic” management of abuse cases. “Although the Embassy at the Holy See is one of the oldest missions of Ireland,” the statement reads, “it does not produce economic returns.” So, the Irish government believes that “the interests of Ireland with the Holy See are sufficiently represented by a non-resident ambassador.” There was no official controversy, and no reference to paedophilia cases. The Vatican reply follows along the same lines: “The Holy See notes the decision to close the Embassy of Ireland in Rome at the Holy See,” writes Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office. He continues: “Any State which has diplomatic relations with the Holy See is free to decide, according to its abilities and interests, whether to have an ambassador at the Holy See living in Rome or as a resident of another country.” Thus, they are not questioning “the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Ireland.”

Nevertheless, Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, has expressed “deep disappointment” at the Irish Government’s decision to close the Dublin embassy to the Holy See. Prior to the closure of the Irish Embassy at the Vatican, the tone was less peaceful. An Irish government commission had published its latest report on sexual abuse by Irish priests in the diocese of Cloyne - a document that has triggered a controversy between the two diplomacies. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has bluntly criticized the shortcomings of the Holy See, which have existed, in his opinion, until the recent past.

On 29 October, the Vatican published a clarification note from the Secretary of State. The Irish Government replied, thanking him for the clarification and asking for “full cooperation” in the future, but reiterated the criticisms and spoke of the “anger” of the Irish population. Meanwhile, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, who was called back to Rome in protest, was then appointed representative of the Holy See in the Czech Republic.

On 3 November, Dublin’s government announced that the headquarters of the ambassador to the Holy See, which had been vacant for months, would be closed. The Pope had intervened directly on the scandal of paedophilia in Ireland, with a letter to the Irish faithful, an apostolic visit, and the resignation of several bishops. Benedict XVI’s “zero tolerance” rule was introduced during a roundtable hosted by the Senate and the Maltese Prelate Charles J. Scicluna, promoter of justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith: “The complaint of abuse may be hampered by mistaken considerations and inappropriate loyalty and solidarity.” The Catholic Church, says the Chief Prosecutor of the Holy See, knows that every time one of its ministers (whether it be a bishop, a priest, a deacon, or a lay pastoral agent) sexually abuses a child, a tragic injury is inflicted on the community, subordinated to the indescribably repugnant damage caused to the child.”








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