The Vatican has shunned us, so why not downgrade the Papal Nuncio?

LILYBAEUM no longer exists.

It used to be a small port in Sicily and had a fort occupied by the ancient Carthaginians.

There’s a town on the site now, called Marsala.

But oddly enough, even though it doesn’t exist, the town of Lilybaeum has one thing left. It has an archbishop.

Numana, on the other hand, is still there. It’s a tiny little town on the east coast of Italy. There’s nothing there really except a small pebble beach. Except, of course, that Numana also has an archbishop.

The Archbishop of Lilybaeum lives on the Navan Road in Dublin 7. His name is Dr Giuseppe Leanza, and he is the Apostolic Nuncio in Ireland. His predecessor in that post, Giuseppe Lazzarotto, is the titular Archbishop of Numana, and was also, for seven years, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.

Both of these men were made archbishops of places that don’t need an archbishop in order to give them status and importance in the church. The titles don’t require them to undertake any pastoral responsibilities, they’re just a career move.

Both men, on behalf of the church, have treated the Murphy Commission, set up by the Irish state (that’s us) to inquire into the abuse of children in the archdiocese of Dublin, with contempt. Perhaps more to the point, they have ignored their obligations to the hundreds of people who suffered abuse at the hands of Catholic priests in Ireland.

Near the very start of the Murphy report the commission briefly describes its dealings with the Vatican. It only takes two paragraphs to set it out in full:

“2.23. The Commission wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome in September 2006 asking for information on the promulgation of the document Crimen Sollicitationis … as well as information on reports of clerical child sexual abuse which had been conveyed to the Congregation by the Archdiocese of Dublin in the period covered by the Commission. The CDF did not reply. However, it did contact the Department of Foreign Affairs stating that the Commission had not gone through appropriate diplomatic channels. The Commission is a body independent of government and does not consider it appropriate for it to use diplomatic channels.

“2.24. The Commission wrote to the Papal Nuncio in February 2007 requesting that he forward to the Commission all documents in his possession relevant to the Commission’s terms of reference, ‘which documents have not already been produced or will not be produced by Archbishop Martin’. The letter further requested the Papal Nuncio, if he had no such documentation, to confirm this. No reply was received. The Commission does not have the power to compel the production of documents by the Papal Nuncio or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Commission again wrote to the Papal Nuncio in 2009 enclosing extracts from the draft report which referred to him and his office as it was required to do. Again, no reply was received.”

I suppose we shouldn’t find this astonishing. The Murphy Commission’s central finding was that children didn’t matter to the leaders of the Catholic church in the Dublin archdiocese. Again and again over 40 years, whenever there was a choice between protecting a child and protecting the institution of the church, the bishops of Dublin chose the church.

They didn’t just turn a blind eye to abuse, they colluded in it. If any of them had acted earlier they could have had a profound effect on the culture of abuse. But to their eternal shame, they accepted absurd and dishonest explanations from their criminal priests, and they employed immoral and lying tactics to hide their own complicity.

In all of this they, the bishops, also secured the complicity of various organs of the state. We already know from the Ryan report what a culture of obsequious deference existed, and how many public servants bowed the knee to anyone representing the church. The same pattern is repeated in the Murphy report, with senior policemen deciding that crimes committed by Catholic clergymen were simply outside their remit.

As I write this, there has been no sound from the Vatican, no murmur of regret, no condemnation of crime, no sorrow for the children who suffered. Nothing at all, just the same silence that greeted the Murphy Commission when they sought the help of the Vatican to uncover abuse.

Isn’t it time that we said enough of this? There was talk a couple of weeks ago – not serious talk, but it was mentioned – of calling in the French ambassador over the Thierry Henry cheating incident. Well, I think we should be demanding that the Ambassador of the Holy See, the titular Archbishop of Numana, should be called in by our Minister for Foreign Affairs and asked to account for the position of the Vatican in refusing to respond to the Murphy Commission.

And I also believe we should be calling on the Government to decide that in the light of everything that has happened, the nature of the relationship between the Holy See and Ireland should be changed forever.

Let me tell you what I mean. The Holy See occupies a distinct and unusual place in the lives of some countries. A practice has grown up, reflective of a special relationship but also of the power and influence of the church, whereby the Papal Nuncio – Rome’s ambassador – is actually recognised as the head of the diplomatic corps in the country. Although under international law (there’s a Vienna convention on diplomatic relations that governs all this) seniority among ambassadors is supposed to be determined by length of service, countries are allowed to make an exception to this – if they want to – for the Ambassador of the Holy See.

IRELAND is one of those countries. The Ambassador of the Holy See in Ireland is always the head, or dean, of the diplomatic corps resident in this country. The present nuncio, Archbishop Leanza, was only appointed to Ireland last year. In fact he’s one of the most junior diplomats in the country. But when the President of Ireland receives the diplomatic corps, or at any diplomatic function in the country, the Papal Nuncio has to be regarded as more important. Our relationships with the USA, Britain and the EU are all more important – and more positive – but their ambassadors must be treated as inferior to the ambassador from the Vatican.

If that were to change – if the Pope’s ambassador were to be treated as just the same as any other – the Vatican would regard that as an affront and an insult. It would be seen, in their terms, as a serious and grave statement about the nature of the relationship between Ireland and Rome. We need to make that statement.

The Vatican abused the special place it has in our foreign relations. Instead of offering help and sustenance to a country that needed to find out the truth about abuse, it has spurned proper and appropriate enquiries about a vital subject. It has forfeited the right to any special treatment. If we really respect the people abused by those who held offices of trust in the church, we’ll end that special treatment now.

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