Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Irish Embassy to Holy See to Close

I met an Italian guy called Cataldo at a party in Würzburg. He told me he was called
after an Irish saint. Though he was from Rome, his parents were from Taranto in
southern Italy. If you went to Taranto on 8 March, you would see a procession in
honour of San Cataldo, an Irish bishop who died there in 480 and is entombed in
their cathedral. If this still doesn’t click, think of the name Cathal. No Würzburger
thought this conversation weird. On 8 July every year, the skulls of the Irish martyrs
Ss Kilian, Kolonat and Totnan are paraded through the city’s principal thoroughfares.
This is as much a civic as an ecclesiastical event and the authorities keenly invite
representatives of St Kilian’s home diocese of Kilmore and Würzburg’s Irish twins –
Bray and Co Wicklow.

When Helmut Kohl addressed the Houses of the Oireachtas in 1996, he referred
liberally to the contribution of Irish missionary monks to the common and Christian
heritage of Europe. One presumes Dr Kohl was briefed by the German Embassy on
the Rainbow Coalition’s initiatives, which he would have no great problems with as a
declared liberal Catholic. Dr Kohl could recognise some things have a much deeper
significance than current policy. Europe has six diverse continental patron saints; the
European Union only has one – and that is St Columbanus.

If Ireland is an island, there is a certain cultural insularity in the Anglosphere. Mary
Harney was criticised for stating that Ireland was closer to Boston than Berlin, but
there would be some profit in analysing chattering class assumptions. For example,
the reasonable view that the Irish Embassy to the Holy See yields no economic return.
On the face of it, it doesn’t, but this is a bit simplistic.

For those who haven’t noticed, Ireland is in dire trouble and needs to keep the friends
she has and to gain more. To do this, every piece of machinery at the country’s
disposal needs to be employed. This means looking beyond the Anglosphere and at
all the cities, towns and villages across Europe who commemorate Irish saints. It also
means recalling that during the organisation of a European Union event in Dublin
several years ago, Irish officials were surprised at the number of community-wide
delegates who asking for Mass times which it hadn’t occurred to the organisers to
provide. And while Germany has such influence over Ireland’s destiny – maybe our
opinion formers missed the standing ovation Pope Benedict XVI received in the
Bundestag. Despite the perception of a secularist Europe, the continent is dotted by
committed Catholics in positions of influence and power. Mario Monti, Mariano
Rajoy and Donald Tusk are three examples that come to mind. In fact the bulk of the
European People’s Party, which Fine Gael are members of, would be sympathetic
towards Catholicism, including many supporters of Angela Merkel in Germany.
These are people we need on our side and who are going to be impressed by closing
the embassy to the Holy See. The Thirsty Gargoyle has outlined the purpose of the
Embassy according to our own Department of Foreign Affairs here
and Father Vincent Twomey suggests it is not without some economic benefits
There is a good summary of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps
here. The combox in the Irish Times carries
the usual health warning.

The next mystery is whether to blame Enda Kenny or Éamon Gilmore for this stunt.
The Phoenix picked Deputy Gilmore. I have misgivings about the deputy holding the
Foreign Affairs portfolio. Between 1975 and 1992, Deputy Gilmore was a member
of an entity called Official Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party and the Workers’
Party in succession and he was close to the top of this organisation on his election
to Dáil Éireann in 1989. I am not going to muck rake about the Official IRA – the
deputy was probably no more curious about their existence than most of his colleagues.
Even if he did notice them, at least two of his predecessors as foreign minister (Seán
and Frank Aiken) had been IRA chiefs of staff and each left a lasting
positive legacy. No, my problem is the current Minister for Foreign Affairs was a
long standing prominent member of a party which supported the Soviet Union and
other regimes with appalling human rights records and the Irish media seem to have
forgotten this. Any way, did Éamon Gilmore close the Irish Embassy to the Holy
See to re-assert his secular credentials in response to Enda Kenny’s rather childish
outburst in Dáil Éireann on 20 July here.

For all that, I have certain ambivalence about the whole drama. If the pope were to
visit Ireland for next year’s Eucharistic Congress, it would gall me to see the likes
of Deputy Kenny, Deputy Gilmore and the bulk of their colleagues receiving him.
I could laugh at Jose Luis Zapatero’s cabinet kissing the papal ring at the end of
World Youth Day in Madrid a few months ago, but I find the prospect of our own
government doing so less humourous. And when the Irish ambassador to the Holy
See is located in Dublin, he is limited in what he can do. The thought that he might
make contacts in the Congregation of Bishops and seek to influence the appointment
of bishops in this country is frightening. Or maybe spin Ruairí Quinn’s proposals
on school patronage to convince the Congregation for Catholic Education that they
are actually a good thing, despite of what the Irish bishops might say. However, that
is a luxury I don’t have. The position of the Holy See as a sovereign entity is under
assault, by interests who resent its role in defending life and the family at international
fora and who wish to curtail it. John Allen warns of possible consequences
of the closure here. hand remember, the fellows leaving the comments aren't Orangemen; they're Catholics. The propaganda value in a country like Ireland downgrading relations with the Holy See plays right into the hands of certain vested interests. Finally, one positive has emerged from the whole comedy
– the new Apostolic Nuncio in Dublin, Mgr Charles Browne, does appear to be a
serious and focussed operator. Right now, the pope needs someone like this on the

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