Enda Kenny, yesterday gave one of the most extraordinary speeches in recent Irish history. Just one week after the publication of the latest report into child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the country, the Taoiseach vehemently attacked the Vatican State for its role in covering up cases of child sex abuse in Ireland.
Although the same sentiment has been echoed across radio phone-in shows, on the letters pages of newspapers and in conversations in pubs around the country, this was the first time an Irish leader had explicitly addressed the Vatican State’s cover-up efforts, decrying the “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day”.
It was a unexpectedly shocking moment. I hadn’t realised how much I needed to hear private anger publicly acknowledged. The latest report into child protection failures in the diocese of Cloynes has compounded that anger. Even as the Vatican’s spokespriest has dismissed it, Kenny’s speech, coupled with the report’s stark findings, has led to renewed calls for the expulsion of the Vatican’s diplomatic representative to Ireland, the Papal Nuncio.
Renewed, because this is not Ireland’s first report showing misbehaviour by the Vatican State on the issue of child sex abuse.
In November 2009, the Murphy report into the abuse of children over decades by Catholic clergy was released. The country was convulsed and repulsed by the clear description of cover-ups, lies, deceit, and misbehaviour by the Church. In addition, it was clear from that report that the institutions of the state- political, police and judicial- had all participated in the same effort to protect Church institutions at the expense of abused children.
The evening that report was released, I set up a Facebook group “Expel the Irish Papal Nuncio”. There is no point in attacking the Irish Catholic Church. It is not a democratic structure. It is not accountable to its followers and it has no sense of shame. There is no political pressure available and it is immune to moral pressure, as it has no morals. It does what it can do.
This leaves the Irish State.
The Catholic church is also a State and that state’s representative had deliberately stonewalled the Murphy Inquiry. But unlike the bishops, the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican state’s diplomatic representative, is answerable to the Irish state through the Department of Foreign Affairs. And the Minister for Foreign Affairs is answerable to the citizens of the state.
The Papal Nuncio’s reaction to the Murphy and Cloyne reports has been offensive, blustering and transparently dishonest. In this, he has mirrored the response of the Vatican.
This is why keeping the focus of public attention on him as the Vatican’s official representative in Ireland is appropriate. His behaviour is unacceptable precisely because he is a true reflection of the Vatican State he has been sent to represent. Perversely, the worse his behaviour, the more accurate a representative of his home state he becomes.
The Nuncio has traditionally held the Honorific of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, reflecting our state’s close identification with the Vatican. As we now know, that identification has been unhealthy for decades, and maintained at the expense of our own citizens and children. Enda Kenny’s speech yesterday was particularly powerful, precisely because of the stark contrast it presented to his predecessors’ reflexive prioritising of the Vatican State’s power over the protection of our local powerless.
When the last Taoiseach Brian Cowen got to his feet to address the Dail on the Murphy report he abandoned the prepared text of his speech to lead with a defence of the Papal Nuncio. It was an act of political insanity but fully in keeping with Fianna Fail’s relationship with the Vatican and the Irish Church. Cowen became the Vatican’s excuser-in-chief, revealing the hollowness of his claims of a break with the past.
In 2011, we have a new Government, who have stopped making excuses for the Vatican State. The Facebook campaign now has over 5,000 members, who continue to send emails and letters to their TDs and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs expressing the clear message that we want action.
Enda Kenny said yesterday that the Vatican downplayed the rape and torture of Irish children to to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’. We should expel the Vatican’s Papal Nuncio and send the message that they have destroyed the very things they prized the most.
(by Simon McGarr and Christine Bohan)