Vatican rift - Embassy closure not supported

IT appears a seismic shift is taking place in Irish attitudes to the Holy See.

This groundbreaking trend is reflected in contrasting public reactions to major rifts between the Government and Rome in recent times.

As today’s report clearly shows, even though the Taoiseach’s attack on the role of the Church in Ireland’s ongoing scandal of child abuse was loudly applauded, the Government’s decision to close the embassy to the Vatican has encountered vociferous opposition.

Public reaction to the decision to break with diplomatic tradition has been overwhelmingly negative with 93% opposing it after the announcement was made by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. It was in stark contrast with the surprisingly high level of support for Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s scathing criticism of Rome in his speech on the Cloyne Report.

This shows that most people draw a sharp distinction between the dwindling authority of Rome on matters of morality while at the same they recognise the importance of having an embassy at the Vatican.

It remains to be seen whether these developments are further evidence of the growing rift between Church and state in this country and reflect what experienced observers see as the increasing secularism of modern Ireland.

It also points to serious differences in Government circles when it comes to judging the mood of the public on sensitive issues of this kind. On the face of it, the Taoiseach’s angry speech seems to have caught the mood of the people perfectly, while in stark contrast the Tánaiste looks to have got it wrong in terms of assessing public opinion when he decided to close the embassy on economic grounds.

When he announced the decision last November, the Tánaiste denied it had anything to do with the Cloyne Report speech in which the Taoiseach accused the Vatican of downplaying the rape and torture of children to protect its own primacy.

Judging by the tone of letters and e-mails to Government, seen by the Irish Examiner under Freedom of Information, following the Tánaiste’s controversial initiative, opposition to the embassy closure has come from all points of the compass. Comparing the Foreign Minister to Oliver Cromwell, one critic charged him with “raw hatred” of the Catholic Church, while another claimed the Government was using the clerical child sexual abuse scandals as cover to wage a vendetta against the Church.

On a less strident and more pragmatic note, however, other writers questioned the economic rationale of closing the embassy to save money. Several people argued that, in the long run, Ireland’s foreign policy would suffer as a result of shutting down the embassy. Out of 102 records released, 95 criticised the decision while seven backed the move. In contrast, Mr Kenny received 507 messages, of which 455 were supportive.

Whether the Government’s motives were political or economic, at the end of the day it has to be stated clearly and unequivocally that the root cause of the present divisions between Ireland and Rome can be traced to a deliberate cover-up on the part of certain Irish bishops who were utterly guilty of failing to protect vulnerable children against the unfettered predations of paedophile priests. And, as in other countries, the silence of the Vatican was deafening and it was equally guilty of failing to act in defence of child victims of clerical abuse.

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