In the midst of economic difficulties it is easy to understand why the Government would question the cost of separate diplomatic missions in Rome and the Vatican. They are essentially in the same city.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs explained that the mission at the Holy See “yields no economic return”. The decision to close the mission there is logical in purely economic terms. Officials at the Vatican are now “extremely irritated” by the decision, and fears that other countries will follow suit.
The Vatican is a separate state. People here should have little difficulty understanding how they feel at the Vatican. How would we feel if other European countries decided to save money by closing their embassies in Dublin and having their ambassador in London double up as minister to Ireland?
Ireland is a small country with a relatively tiny population and no military clout, but we have enjoyed an international influence that has been out of all proportion to these. At the League of Nations, Irish representatives served as president of both the council and the assembly.
Seán Lester, grandfather of Chief Justice Susan Denham of the Supreme Court, was the last secretary general of the League of Nations. F H Boland served as president of the UN assembly.
This country has punched above its weight diplomatically due to the influence of Irish people around the world, especially in countries such as Australia, Canada and the US. They, in turn, owed their influence not to their numbers but to the prominent influence that Irish people or their children held within the Catholic Church in those countries. That afforded a tremendous Irish influence over millions of others of various ethnic backgrounds.
Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator, famously derided the power of the Vatican by asking how many divisions the Pope had. Ironically, it was a pope who later did much to undermine the structures built by Stalin. Pope John Paul II was widely credited with being the single most influential person in bringing down the Iron Curtain.
Of course, the Church’s influence in more recent years has been seriously undermined by the clerical paedophile scandals, which were not confined to Ireland. There were even worse abuses in other countries.
The arrogance of the Vatican and its hierarchy in response to what happened in this country, and the attitude exhibited earlier this year in the wake of the Cloyne Report, were deplorable. Up to this point, the Government has expressed its annoyance in a restrained and admirable way, despite provocation.
The Church is likely to undergo some much-needed restructuring, and we should not cut off our influence in that restructuring. The decision to withdraw the Irish mission from the Holy See should therefore be reconsidered.