by Frank Schnittger
Tue Feb 21st, 2012 at 09:41:46 AM EST
Vatican row a storm in a teacup | Irish Examiner Tuesday, February 21, 2012
For the last time, can we please put an end to this nonsense about the Vatican embassy?
Our diplomatic relations with the Vatican have not been sundered. Our ambassador is merely resident in Dublin, as is the Papal Nuncio.
Neither has our embassy in Rome been closed. It is just that our former embassy to the Vatican, the Villa Spada, now houses our embassy to Italy.
The only reason our ambassador to the Vatican is now resident in Dublin is because the Vatican has a unilaterally imposed policy of not allowing ambassadors to Italy to be also accredited to the Vatican.
As a direct consequence of this, many countries accredit their ambassador in some other European country to the Vatican. We do not generally tell other countries who they can and can not accredit to Ireland as their ambassador.
Neither should we. Except in extreme circumstances.
If the Holy See would only return us this courtesy, we could accredit our ambassador to Italy to the Vatican as well, saving us the cost of two embassies in one city, and putting an end to this needless controversy.
Perhaps this is the "leaner" compromise referred to by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin before a liturgical reception for the new papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles J Brown last Sunday.
There has been something of a conservative Catholic backlash against the Irish Government's decision to close our embassy to the Vatican typified by Breda O'Brien's piece in the Irish Times:
Closure of Vatican embassy has wide-ranging implications - The Irish Times - Sat, Feb 18, 2012
Just as we ratchet down our relationship with the Vatican, the British step theirs up, writes BREDA O'BRIEN.
THE DEBATE about the closure of the embassy to the Holy See is fascinating. Rather quietly, a consensus has grown up that it was a bad decision. There are lots of reasons why, and Seán Donlon, former secretary general in the Department of Foreign Affairs, articulated some of them in the Irish Examiner, including the obvious one of influencing standards on child abuse.
I presume the "consensus" she is referring to consists of her friends and fellow Patrons of the Iona Institute a Catholic "think tank":The Iona Institute | About us
The Iona Institute promotes the place of marriage and religion in society. We defend the continued existence of publicly-funded denominational schools. We also promote freedom of conscience and religion.
The Iona Institute is headed by religious and social affairs commentator, David Quinn.
Quite why the Irish Government should seek the influence of the Vatican on our "standards on child abuse" is never articulated in the article. We are presumed to believe that the organisation which sheltered the abusers should have the right to advise us on how best to protect children in the future.
But then, as Breda also never tires of pointing out:
Sexual abuse would still exist without church - The Irish Times - Sat, Feb 11, 2012
In Ireland, we have a massive problem with sexual abuse. If the Catholic Church was outlawed in the morning, we would still have that problem.
It could be a huge changing point for our society if we could properly acknowledge, and begin to deal with, that fact.
Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever claimed that sexual abuse is limited to the Catholic Church or that the problem would disappear if the Catholic Church was outlawed. So why finish her otherwise good article on this spurious straw man argument?
In fairness, an argument can be made for maintaining a diplomatic presence close to the Vatican (The Irish Embassy to the Vatican never was located in the Vatican itself). This argument was recently made in a letter to the Irish Times by the distinguished retired diplomat Michael Lillis, who had been appointed to a UN Commission examining human rights in Cuba in 1988:
Our man at the Vatican - The Irish Times - Tue, Feb 21, 2012
Before embarking I visited the foreign ministries in Madrid, Bonn, London, Paris and Washington DC to try to learn from the respective experts as much as I could of the findings of their own embassies or third party representatives (eg Switzerland for the US) in Havana. I also visited the two "foreign ministries" in Rome, those of the Quirinale and the Vatican. I spoke also to the representatives in Geneva of the capitals I could not visit and to many others.
With one exception these sessions were a waste of time. In effect my interlocutors either officiously avoided committing their governments in any way and were uninformative or, as in the case of Madrid, were heavily propagandist in favour of the Cuban regime (reflecting the tendency of the then socialist government of Spain) or, as in the case of Washington DC, were propagandist on the other side.
The best sessions by far took place with Cardinals Casaroli and Silvestrini the two senior Vatican officials at that time. They had both perfectly understood the potential of and the limits on the role of the United Nations in its mission.
They were extraordinarily well-informed. They neither demonised nor in any sense minimised the grave problems that the regime in Havana presented to the church and its community in Cuba and the thrust of their briefing was positive in suggesting ways to explore practical and graduated improvements which might be made. They did not confine themselves to the direct interests of the Catholic Church but ranged over the whole field of human rights in its UN dimension. They did not direct me in my duty as an Irish Catholic (as curiously Fidel Castro, a theologian manque, tried strenuously to do in two private sessions I had with him during the mission). The depth of their knowledge of how the Cuban regime functioned and how the UN might be useful left all other foreign ministries looking either completely politicised or inadequate or frankly ignorant.
That diplomatic relations with the Vatican can be useful is also not in dispute. However Ireland maintains only 55 Embassies abroad accredited to 161 foreign Governments. Having two embassies in one city at a time of great economic stringency simply doesn't make sense, and those Catholic intellectuals who think that closing one is an attack on their faith had better think again. They are setting themselves up for an epic fail. It is time they and the Vatican climbed down from their high horses and accepted that there will only be one Irish embassy in Rome with an ambassador resident there accredited to the Vatican if and when the Vatican relents on its presumptuous and impertinent insistence that the Irish ambassador to the Vatican cannot also be accredited to Italy.
And yes, the Pope is also welcome to visit Ireland for the International Eucharistic Congress which takes place in Dublin in June if he so wishes. After all we had the Queen and President Obama visiting last year, and the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping has just concluded successfully - despite his Government's many human rights abuses...