Washing Dishes

On learning of the decision by the Dublin government to wind up its diplomatic mission to the Holy See, a rummage through The Forgot About Folder turned up this old piece which was written during the Cloyne controversy earlier this year. It was a comment on the looming meltdown in relations between Ireland and the Vatican.

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A couple of years ago it was reported how the patrons of a Dublin restaurant appeared honoured to have a luminary dine in their midst. There were hushed respectful whispers and deferential smiles. Not every week that the restaurant would be honoured with the visit of a notable like the papal nuncio. Writer, John Cooney described the scene:

All eyes in a crowded Italian restaurant in the leafy Dublin suburb of Terenure a few weeks ago surveyed the grand entrance of a refined-looking foreign church dignitary and a well-dressed Irishman. Both men were led deferentially by Fabio, the head waiter, to the best table in the house. Word soon spread that the special dinner guests were none other than the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, and the general secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach Dermot McCarthy. What the Taoiseach's right-hand man and the Pope's representative in Ireland discussed at table was of little concern to the other diners, who were more thrilled that they had sighted in their midst a powerful Vatican official with access to Pope Benedict XVI.

How things have changed in such a short period of time. The papal nuncio if ever allowed into an Irish restaurant again, assuming he escapes being strung up, might be escorted out the back to wash the dishes. After which he could be chased out of the country by the scruff of the neck and a toe up his fundament for good measure, counting his blessings it was only a toe from the menu and not the clerics’ choice.

The recent slithering away of Archbishop Leanzo is a striking contrast to 1930 when the arrival of the first papal nuncio, Paschal Robinson, caused much joy throughout the country.  Since then the word cleric has come to be more associated with boy than joy.

The papal nuncio is a papal dunce-io if he seriously expected people to pay any attention to what he had to say in respect of the Cloyne Report. First, the blatant mistruth that ‘I wish to say, however, the total commitment of the Holy See for its part to taking all the necessary measures to assure protection.’ Protection surely, but for priests not children.

Secondly, if there is any truth in his claim to be ‘very distressed’ it is likely that his distress is caused by the exposure once again of his criminal buddies in the Vatican. There was hardly much wrong in Charlie Flanagan of Fine Gael calling for the expulsion from Ireland of this chancer.

Before that had a chance, as unlikely as it seems, the nuncio was recalled by Rome a few days after Taoiseach Enda Kenny tore strips off the Vatican over its instinct for self-preservation to the detriment of Irish children. The vice-director of the Vatican press office, Ciro Benedettini said that there was surprise and disappointment in the Vatican at the robust way in which Kenny took the institution to task.  This was echoed in an Irish Times report that ‘in Rome, experienced Vatican commentators were struggling ... to remember the last time the Holy See had recalled a nuncio in such circumstances.’

The seriousness of the situation in which the Vatican found itself was explained by Dermot Keogh who outlined how important it was for Rome to maintain its diplomatic mission:

The Holy See has a policy of seeking to preserve diplomatic relations intact even in the most trying and difficult of circumstances. Keeping an envoy in residence through revolutions, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes is part of the risk of working in the diplomatic profession.

There is a view that most Vatican observers saw the departure of the papal nuncio as a means to get him out of the firing line. Ivor Roberts the president of Trinity College Oxford wrote that:

The Vatican's claim that the withdrawal is the better to inform its response to the Cloyne Report should fool no one. If Rome wanted Archbishop Leanza back for his diplomatic and intellectual input, there are discreet ways of doing it without publicly announcing it and linking it directly to what the Vatican terms "certain excessive reactions" to Cloyne. No, withdrawal for consultations was a calculated move to express serious displeasure at the Irish Government's dramatically robust response to the report, with its withering attack not on the church in Ireland but on the Vatican itself.

In recent times papal nuncios have displayed an arrogance towards Irish society. They contemptuously ignored requests for information essential to the progress of investigations into clerical abuse. In this they have been backed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome which, with similar disdain in response to a request for vital information, insisted that the matter would have be to addressed via a diplomatic channel. How about the International Criminal Court? The men of god are not it seems accountable to the people of god.


  1. A law unto themselves and no intention of changing for man nor beastie...which too many of them are...beasties.

  2. One of the biggest changes in my lifetime (last 30-odd years) has been in attitudes towards the church. Growing up in a small village the church had a grip on the place that thankfully hasn't made it to my generation once they've reached adulthood.

    I remember being castigated one Good Friday for being in the pub... by the barmaid who was serving me the pint! Leaving aside the philosophical discussion about which of us was committing the greater sin, ignoring the church has become both possible and fantastically socially acceptable.

    If nothing else it might mean that in future batchelor farmers might leave their estates to the hurling club instead of the church. Amen to that!

  3. Friday,

    'ignoring the church has become both possible and fantastically socially acceptable.'

    And good for the moral health