Thursday 5 December 2019

John Cooney: Ball is back in Rome's court as politicians await papal response

Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Leanza (right)
Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Leanza (right)

A FAST-moving game of 'Vatican roulette' switched dramatically to Rome yesterday after last week's unprecedented attack on the Catholic Church led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and a unified self-proclaiming 'republican' Dail.

After taking the early morning Aer Lingus flight to Rome, Giuseppe Leanza, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, was back inside the corridors of the Apostolic Palace. He had been recalled home on a summons.

Archbishop Leanza's rapid recall was ordered over the weekend by the Pope's prime minister, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, after he was briefed of the attack by Mr Kenny.

Even though Cardinal Bertone was already enjoying his summer holidays in the Alps, he was stunned to hear how the Taoiseach last Wednesday accused the Holy See of frustrating the Cloyne investigation in a sovereign, democratic republic by undermining protection guidelines agreed by the Irish bishops in 1996.

Cardinal Bertone had gone on early vacation in spite of the ultimatum issued by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore in the immediate aftermath of the Cloyne Report's publication on July 13.

Before leaving, he was well apprised of the meeting in Iveagh House, at which Mr Gilmore demanded of Archbishop Leanza the submission in a reasonable time of a comprehensive response from the Holy See to the Government's charge of an "entirely unhelpful" interference in Irish affairs.

Obviously, Mr Gilmore's riposte did not cause Cardinal Bertone to postpone his holidays, and in the time-honoured practice of Rome moving slowly, was intent on letting Dublin stew until the autumn for an official reply.

However, the Taoiseach's thunderbolt and the Oireachtas's unanimous condemnation of the Holy See -- which received massive international media coverage -- rang alarm bells for Cardinal Bertone.

Even though Mr Gilmore had laid down a deadline of the end of August, Cardinal Bertone took command. He spun the roulette. Archbishop Leanza was Romeward-bound.

Contrary to Rome's customary conduct of business in secrecy, Cardinal Bertoni ordered news of Archbishop Leanza's return to be announced on Vatican Radio. There was confusion as to whether this was a total withdrawal of Archbishop Leanza or merely a temporary return to headquarters, an unusual gesture of rebuke.

It was later confirmed by the Holy See deputy chief spokesman, Father Ciro Benedettini, that recalling the Nuncio for high level consultations was a sign of how seriously the Vatican was taking the Cloyne Report.

"The recall of the Nuncio, being a measure rarely adopted by the Holy See, denotes the seriousness of the situation and the Holy See's desire to face it objectively and determinately," Fr Benedettini said.

His use of the word "objectively" was an echo of the chief spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi's call for "objectivity", a taunt at the Holy See's perceived imbalance of an over-reaction in Dublin. This, in turn, provoked Mr Gilmore on Friday last to reclaim "objectivity" for the Cloyne conclusions.

Fr Benedettini's next sentence was a Jesuitical jibe at the Taoiseach and the majority support for his stance from the Irish public, especially abuse victims.

"Nor does it (the big 'O' word) exclude some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions," he retorted.

With this subtle slap-down of the Taoiseach, Fr Benedettini donned the role of diplomatic statesman a la Romana by noting that "the recall of the Nuncio should be interpreted as an expression of the desire of the Holy See for serious and effective collaboration with the (Irish) Government".

A high concern of the Vatican is for the Government to acknowledge that Pope Benedict has initiated new procedures for referral to civil authorities. It is also concerned about a proposed law in Ireland breaching the seal of the confession regarding child abusers.

This is where matters now stand, two weeks after the release of the damning Cloyne Report. There was no mention of the Vatican having summoned ex-Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee, to assist in its internal inquiries!

As heads of Roman departments draft the response with Archbishop Leanza, one view about the next move is that he will not return to Dublin but move on to quieter pastures.

A second option is that Archbishop Leanza will return to Dublin, perhaps by the end of the week, to deliver the official response to Mr Gilmore. Its contents would mean the calling of a Cabinet meeting next week to consider it.

No one expects mutual permanent closures of embassies in Dublin and Rome. But with relations at their lowest level ever, this nuclear option cannot be ruled out.

My prediction is that a redefined code of relations will be hammered out by the two sides. Archbishop Leanza will most likely move to Prague next January.

Meanwhile, the Dail will move to deprive the next Nuncio of his stripes as the automatic dean, or head, of the resident diplomatic corps in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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