News Irish News

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Zappone's Italian lessons and message to the Pope on Tuam

WARM WELCOME: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone meets Pope Francis watched by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Aras an Uachtarain on August 25. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
WARM WELCOME: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone meets Pope Francis watched by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Aras an Uachtarain on August 25. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

As Children's Minister Katherine Zappone welcomed Pope Francis at Aras an Uachtarain last summer, it was clear she had a message for him. She held him in place and spoke to him until she was confident her message was delivered.

New correspondence seen by the Sunday Independent shows the level of detail that went in to crafting her message for him about the Tuam Babies case.

It also shows Ms Zappone and her advisers wanted to bypass Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to deliver a message to the Pontiff.

They were concerned that asking the Pope to "step up to the plate" on the issue was "risky" because they were asking him to commit to a course of action that had not yet been approved by the State.

Emails also show the lengths to which Ms Zappone went to learn how to address the Pope in Italian about the burial of 800 babies in a disused septic tank near the site of a former Mother and Baby Home in Co Galway.

Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act shows how Ms Zappone and her advisers spent the days before the Pope's visit planning her interaction with him.

Ms Zappone was the Government representative who greeted Pope Francis at Aras an Uachtarain on August 25 at the start of his visit to Ireland.

She wrote to her advisers on August 18 with an outline of what she wanted to say to him.

She wanted to tell him about Tuam, ask for an apology and insist the Vatican "share in costs to excavate and re-bury with dignity" the Tuam babies. Ms Zappone also wanted his help to access crucial church documents.

"So, [the] message is - will he: offer [an] apology, share in costs, provide access to relevant information," she told her advisers.

She then suggested the idea of learning her message in Italian, recognising she had a short window in which to make her point.

Ms Zappone asked if she should press the Pontiff for a response. It was suggested she learn the Italian for "Is that a 'yes', Pope Francis?"

Her advisers warned that looking for a commitment on something not yet sanctioned by Government was "risky".

A recommendation on the future of the burial site in Tuam has not yet been confirmed.

The minister asked what role Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin would have in her meeting with the Pontiff but advisers told her to focus on the Pope.

"If there are issues with the Dublin Archbishop - then the Pope is his 'boss'. We are going to the top," said one adviser.

"Even raising it with him is meaningful. It will, no doubt, be the first time that it has been raised with him."

The advisers then agreed with Ms Zappone on a formula of words to put to the Pope. They got in touch with Italian instructors who sent the Minister a translation of what she wanted to put to him.

They also sent her audio files of three different Italian speakers reciting her notes so she could familiarise herself with how it should sound.

It was then agreed to shorten her scripted message to make "the language more immediate".

When translated to English, she told him: "Welcome Pope Francis. I am responsible for the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Children's remains were found in a sewer there.

"I hope the church will make reparation for its part in this shameful chapter. It is important. I will write to you with details."

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News