The Irish government’s decision to close its embassy to the Holy See is being criticized by the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
“I wish to express my profound disappointment at this decision which means that Ireland will be without a resident ambassador to the Holy See for the first time since diplomatic relations were established and envoys were exchanged between the two States in 1929,” said Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of All Ireland, in a Nov. 3 statement.
“This decision seems to show little regard for the important role played by the Holy See in international relations and of the historic ties between the Irish people and the Holy See over many centuries.”
Announcing the decision last night, the Tánaiste – or deputy Prime Minister of Ireland -- Eamon Gilmore claimed it had been made solely for economic reasons. He said it followed a review of overseas missions which gave “particular attention to the economic return from bilateral missions.” Given the perilous state of the Irish economy, he said the government had “to cut our cloth.”
Gilmore also announced the closure of embassies in East Timor and Iran.
But his comments have been met with skepticism from some leading Irish Catholics.
“What we’re getting with this Labour government is an attack on Catholic schools, an attack on Catholic culture,” Garry O’Sullivan, the editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland radio program.
O’Sullivan argued that the decision was directly connected to the recent fall-out between the Dublin and Rome after the publication of an official report on the handling of clerical abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, County Cork. The report concluded that the diocese had failed to report nine cases of abuse to the authorities between 1996 and 2005.
“It’s not even two months since this major spat between the Holy See and the Republic of Ireland and suddenly we’re closing our embassy to the Vatican. It’s ill judged,” said O’Sullivan.
Following the publication of the Cloyne Report in July, the Irish prime minister Enda Kenny accused the Vatican of fostering a culture where “the rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’” to maintain “the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation.’”
In response, the Vatican withdrew its ambassador to Dublin for consultations and then issued a detailed 11,000-word response in September, countering each of Kenny’s claims.
Kathy Sinnott, a former Irish member of the European Parliament, told CNA that she finds it “hard to accept the argument that the closure of the embassy to the Holy See is a cost cutting” measure.
“Given the blistering criticism of the Holy See by the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, earlier this year, given that the minister responsible for this decision, Eamon Gilmore, is an outspoken critic of Catholic moral teaching in the area of life and family, and given the government proposal to limit the Catholic Church’s role in education, the ending of one of the Irish Republic’s longest-standing diplomatic missions is very worrying.”
Gilmore stressed that Ireland will continue to have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, although not necessarily by maintaining an residence in Rome. “Diplomatic relations with the Vatican will continue and they are valued,” he said.
At present, the Holy See has diplomatic relations with 179 states, although only about half have ambassadors living permanently in Rome.
The Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said that “any state which has diplomatic relations with the Holy See is free to decide, according to its possibilities and its interests, whether to have an ambassador to the Holy See resident in Rome, or resident in another country.”
“What is important are diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the States, and these are not at issue with regard to Ireland.”