The country undoubtedly owed some of its prominence to its influence within the Roman Catholic Church, because members of the Irish Diaspora were prominent in the Catholic circles, especially in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US.
Although the Vatican’s representative in this country has traditionally been accorded the title of “Dean of the Diplomatic Corps”, diplomatic relations with the Vatican have tended to be strained over a number of years. Relations are currently plumbing an all-time low, especially in the wake of the Cloyne report, which raised serious doubts about Vatican officials suggesting that the Catholic Church was a law unto itself when it came to the matter of clerical paedophilia.
Now there are serious suggestions that the papal nuncio should be expelled, that the Irish embassy at the Vatican should be closed and its functions transferred to the embassy in Rome, or that the Vatican representative should no longer be recognised as the ceremonial head the diplomatic corps on state occasions.
For the second time in 18 months the nuncio has been summoned to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to explain the Vatican’s failure to protect Irish children. “Fool me once,” Éamon de Valera used to say, “shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
There can be little doubt that Vatican officials have treated Irish authorities with a thinly veiled contempt. But our authorities should not think they can now just blame the child abuse scandals on Church authorities in both this country and the Vatican. The Church and civil authorities are culpable.
It is more than a decade-and-a-half since Albert Reynolds’ government was brought down in the wake of the Fr Brendan Smyth affair. Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel is now saying that an “awful lot will have to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again”. What have they been doing for all those years?
The blame for that indifference lies equally with the Church and civil authorities — the politicians and the Garda. It is only now that there is talk of the Garda investigating many of the issues covered in the Cloyne report. Most of the accused are already dead.
In a republic, nobody should be above the law and questions must be asked about why the civil authorities have not investigated these matters already. They allowed the pace of the investigations to be largely dictated by the Church, which has been allowed to hide some of the reports.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has long appeared to appreciate the gravity of the situation, but he seemed to have little support within the Catholic hierarchy in this country and the Vatican. He has rightly called for the publication of three reports into clerical child abuse that have essentially been suppressed.
The whole sordid affair must be blown open for once and for all, in order to protect other children.