30 Jun 2022

Opinion: Give the Papal Nuncio his walking papers

Time rolls on and the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, in terms of Church-State relations.

Time rolls on and the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, in terms of Church-State relations.

The Government of the Republic, once enthralled to the Vatican, is seeking an explanation as to why it facilitated priests to disregard child protection rules, as revealed in the report on the Cloyne diocese.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, has bluntly told the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, that he wants to know why the Vatican told priests and bishops they could undermine rules laid down by the Irish bishops.

Mr Gilmore has said he does not think it will be very long before the Vatican responds.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs is a tough, pragmatic politician and he will not hold back in demanding the Vatican accounts for its stewardship on this issue.

The Chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, Charlie Flanagan, went further in demanding that the Papal Nuncio be expelled from the State. He said his position was untenable.

He argued there were no circumstances in which canon law could take precedence over civil or criminal law. “As an ambassador of the Vatican State, he should leave the jurisdiction,’’ Mr Flanagan added.

The strong words used by Mr Gilmore, and Mr Flanagan’s demand that we expel the Papal Nuncio, are a world away from the deference once shown to the Catholic Church by our political masters. That deference existed to some degree until relatively recently.

Now it is gone forever. The respect accorded to the many worthy priests and other religious who do such good work, in areas like health, education and social deprivation, will remain. And rightly so.

Archive film has several examples of the State literally on bended knees to the Church in that period of our history when Rome ruled every aspect of life and the politicians followed meekly.

Eamon de Valera and other senior politicians promptly bowed to kiss the episcopal ring at public functions. At Croke Park, on All Ireland Day, they bowed and scraped when those same Church men arrived in the VIP section.

And all the time there was the grotesque underbelly of our wretched orphanages and laundries which were glorified prisons.

Many of the men of Church and State were aware of this. But they held their silence. Ireland’s image, held together by a largely bogus piety, had to be protected at all costs.

The long episcopacy of Dr John Charles McQuiad, Archbishop of Dublin from the 1940s to the 1970s, is probably the best historical illustration of the Church’s dominance of Irish society.

When Dr McQuaid called on politicians to jump, most, but not all, were interested in how high it should be.

It is not to take from the good pastoral work done by some bishops to recognise that they were all-powerful right across every strata of Irish society.

That, inevitably, led to the kind of dominance that was ultimately a negative influence. Would a more open society have exposed the full horror of the Artane industrial school long before it slowly and painfully emerged?

Likewise, the horror of the Magdalene laundries might have been unearthed. Where did the banning of books in an insular society ultimately leave us? That bit more backward and inward looking

Not all senior Church men flaunted their power and status. But too many did. Dr McQuaid lived like a Prince in a south Dublin mansion. He had a car and driver, rivaling the Taoiseach of the day.

Dr Noel Browne, who fell foul of him over the Mother and Child Scheme, described the Archbishop at a ceremony in the Pro-Cathedral at the height of his reign.

In his book, “Against the Tide’’, he wrote of observing: “…the demure child acolytes, the robed clerical students, the imposing shining gilt crucifix carried by its tall student bearer.

“Scented incense rose from the gently moving thurible. Embroidered vestments glowed, bejewelled, ornate and colourful, on the supporting clergy…at its heart walked the Archbishop of Dublin.

“His dark eyes, glittering in a mask-like face, were transfixed on the shimmering White Host. He had a long straight, thin nose and a saturnine appearance, with an awesome fixity of expression, and the strong mouth of an obsessional.’’

Dr Browne was a psychiatrist as well as medical doctor. His description of this kind of ceremonial, in a relatively poor country at the time, highlights the huge power held by the institutional church.

That power was sometimes used to discipline its own footsoldiers, priests, for instance, who questioned the authority of the Church in areas which affected people’s personal lives.

John Cooney, in researching his book, “John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland’’, read the McQuaid files stretching back over decades.

He has written of how the then Taoiseach, John A Costello, “wholeheartedly accepted an utterly subservient role in 1950-51 when the Hierarchy, led by McQuaid, opposed the Minister for Health Dr Noel Browne’s, proposed free, non-means tested scheme for mother and child welfare.’’

He added: “Not alone was McQuaid briefed by Costello about cabinet discussions, he momentarily assumed the role of Cabinet secretary when he helped draft the Government’s acceptance of the Bishops’ condemnation of ‘socialised medicine’ – written by McQuaid !’’

Mr Cooney observed that even “the hard-bitten Sean Lemass, who put Ireland on course to the European highway in the 1960s, was wary of challenging McQuaid’s moral monopoly’’.

He added: “Furthermore, Lemass’s successor, Jack Lynch, who talked a lot about a pluralist Ireland, shirked from removing the ban on contraception when McQuaid threatened a curse upon a nation that would legalise condoms.’’

Most politicians, even those who were independent thinkers with a streak of radicalism, were afraid to oppose the might of the institutional Church with its vice-like grip on the Irish people.

Time moved on. Ireland changed, as it inevitably would. And so, last week, Mr Gilmore called in the Papal Nuncio to demand an explanation of the Vatican’s behaviour, and Mr Flanagan went further and called for his expulsion.

It is not an exaggeration to observe that things will never be the same again. But, then, Irish society will never be the same again anyway.

The Economic War that now confronts us, that battle to regain our fiscal sovereignty, has cast a pall of gloom, and in some cases panic, over Ireland. It will leave its mark.

It beggars belief that Bishop John Magee, of Cloyne, and his right hand man, Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan, did not appear at the press conference where details of the Cloyne report were discussed.

Where was the accountability? Bishop Magee was abroad, while Monsignor O’Callaghan was at his holiday home in south Kerry. Imagine if our sometimes much maligned politicians failed to show up at a press conference to explain their actions.

But, astonishingly, not so the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church will survive as an institution, but in a very different way to what was the norm in the days when it enjoyed unrestricted power.

If the explanation Mr Gilmore has sought from Rome proves to be unsatisfactory, he should follow Mr Flanagan’s advice.

The only course of action will be to give the Papal Nuncio his walking papers.

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