THE Department of Foreign Affairs has not received any notice that the Papal Nuncio will be leaving Ireland, despite confirmation from Czech officials that he is due to move to Prague shortly.
Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, currently in Rome after a dramatic recall to the Vatican following the furore over the Cloyne Report, has only served three and half years here while his predecessors served six, five and seven years respectively.
The timing of his relocation, after the Government demanded that the Vatican respond to criticisms that it discouraged clergy from reporting allegations of child sex abuse, is not seen as coincidental, although the Department refused to make any direct link.
A spokesman said as the Government had not yet received a response, it could not say what the Vatican’s attitude was. He also played down the significance of the Vatican’s failure to notify the Government of Archbishop Leanza’s departure in advance of it becoming public knowledge.
“It’s not unusual not to get much advance formal notice of a diplomat’s departure,” said the spokesman. “Sometimes you know it’s coming because there’s been a change in government in the country in question. Sometimes you only get a week’s notice. Often it’s part of a complete reshuffle of ambassadors by a country so they won’t announce one until all of the moves have been worked out.”
The spokesman said, however, it was the Department’s understanding that Archbishop Leanza would be returning to Ireland to sort out some matters before moving to Prague, and that he would deliver the Vatican’s response to the Cloyne Report. He said it was understood this would happen by the end of August.
It is not known when a replacement for Archbishop Leanza will be announced but the Department spokesman said it was not unusual for there to be a gap between the departure of one diplomat and the arrival of their successor. “It’s very common that the next most senior person would fill in temporarily as a charge d’affaires.”
Although there have been calls from some quarters for the formal expulsion of the nuncio in protest at the Vatican’s behaviour, there is no indication that Rome is sufficiently angered by what its spokesman called “some excessive reactions” to seriously consider ending diplomatic links with Ireland.
However, relations are likely to remain strained if the stance adopted by the director of the Vatican Press Office this week is an indicator of what is to come in the formal response to Cloyne.
According to Vatican Radio, Fr Frederico Lombardi told journalists that the Vatican’s observations on the Irish bishops’ abuse reporting guidelines — singled out in the Cloyne Report as a factor which prevented reporting of suspected abusers — were “legitimate”.
Fr Lombardi reportedly said those observations reflected concern that Irish policy and sanctions against abusers would be in vain if they were ultimately found to be in contradiction of church law.
Q. What is a papal nuncio?
A. It’s a fancy word for ambassador. Papal nuncios are ambassadors for the Holy See and are in over 100 countries, including Ireland.
Q. But the Holy See isn’t a country — how can it have ambassadors?
A. The Holy See, the headquarters of the Catholic Church, is almost synonymous with the Vatican City, which is an independent state within Italy. In fact, it even has an ambassador to Italy. Likewise, we have an ambassador to the Holy See,although the position is currently vacant.
Q. So, like any embassy, it’s all about trade missions, tourists in trouble, visa applications and lost passports?
A. Not exactly — it’s been a while since holiday-makers have had to be evacuated from St Peter’s because of floods or earthquakes. It’s really to do with church-state relations and ecumenical relations with other churches within Ireland. The papal nuncio is not only the diplomatic link between Ireland and the Holy See, he’s also the Holy See’s formal link with the Catholic Church in Ireland. He’s a kind of watchdog and party whip, tasked with making sure Catholic clergy toe the Vatican line.
Q. Who is the current nuncio?
A. He is 68-year-old Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, a multilingual cleric who took up his post in February 2008.
Q. Is all his work behind the scenes?
A. No, he conducts or attends high profile religious ceremonies — the installment of bishops, for example.
Q. How have relations been with the nuncio here?
A. They used to be very deferential. Up to the mid-70s, the nuncio had one of the finest residences in the Republic — the state-owned former Under-Secretary’s Residence in the Phoenix Park — which he got for a nominal rent of a £1 a year (a practice since discontinued). He has also been the automatic choice for Dean of the Diplomatic Corps here — a title which gives him seniority over all other ambassadors when it comes to invitations to formal events, seating arrangements, etc. He’s also meant to act as the diplomatic corps’ representative in matters of common concern to them. Nuncios are automatically given this honour in many countries, but other countries bestow it on whoever is the longest serving ambassador.
Q. But haven’t there been tensions too?
A. Absolutely. The most public examples were initially criticisms by clergy themselves who opposed several nuncios’ appointments to senior roles within the church, accusing them of stifling reform. Since the clerical child sex abuse scandals emerged, however, that issue has dominated. In the 1990s, one of Fr Sean Fortune’s victims took a test case, suing the Pope through the then nuncio, Luciano Storero, who promptly claimed diplomatic immunity. Storero died before the High Court could determine the case which was later settled with the Diocese of Ferns. His successor, Giuseppe Lazzarotto, was criticised in the Murphy Report for lack of cooperation in its inquiry into abuses in the Dublin Archdiocese, and now the current incumbent is the go-between in an unprecedentedly hostile exchange with the Vatican over the Cloyne Report.
Q. Do we need a papal nuncio?
A. For practical purposes, probably not, especially seeing as we have Cardinal Sean Brady, who is also Primate of All Ireland, who could act as a figure-head for the Vatican and diplomatic link if needed. For historical purposes, yes, especially if his office still holds documents that would be relevant if further Cloyne-type investigations are to take place in other dioceses. For the future, probably not. Arguably, the Catholic Church’s increasingly tenuous grip on the hearts of Irish people, the Holy See probably needs a nuncio here more so than the country needs him to be here. For purely diplomatic reasons, probably yes — they say it’s always better to keep lines of communication open even if sometimes the only communication is an argument or stoney silence.
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