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Lise Hand: Unholy war on cards as angry Gilmore takes aim at the Vatican

HIS Excellency Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza looked distinctly rattled as he stood on the steps of Iveagh House. Shortly after the Cloyne Report had been published on Wednesday, the papal nuncio had been made an offer he couldn't refuse.

The Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs had summoned him to the department to present him with a copy of the latest account of the failures of the Catholic Church and also to express the extreme displeasure of the Government over the report's finding that the Vatican meddled directly in Irish matters of state.

And so the papal nuncio was wearing the hunted look of a chap who had been hauled unceremoniously over some piping-hot coals when he emerged from the 30-minute meeting. In a barely-audible voice he read from a prepared statement -- which was all of 38 seconds long.

"I think it has been a useful meeting," he said diplomatically, adding he had received a copy of the 400-page damning report. "I shall be bringing it immediately to the attention of the Holy See".

He described himself as "very distressed that again there have been failures in assuring the protection of children in the church despite all the good work that has been done".

But he declined to expand on this distress to the posse of reporters firing questions in his direction.

He simply (barely) said his piece and then hurried into his waiting car, head bowed and silent.

A few minutes later, Eamon Gilmore came out into the sunny garden of Iveagh House to give more detail about the pow-wow between the pair.

Since becoming deputy leader of the Government, he's had scant opportunity to unleash his inner Mr Angry -- but by golly he was angry now. In fact, he was mad as hell.

"I pointed out that among the most disturbing of the findings of the Cloyne Report is that the Vatican authorities undermined the Irish churches' own efforts to deal with clerical child sexual abuse by describing the framework document adopted by the Bishop's Conference as a mere study document," he stated.

"We consider it absolutely unacceptable that the Vatican intervened here."

Perhaps it was fitting that it was Bastille Day yesterday, the date commemorating when the old order of things was swept away in France, but General Gilmore strapped on his tin hat and more or less declared war on the Holy See.

"There has been far too much silence. I want an explanation. What happened here was there was a totally inappropriate, unjustified, unacceptable intervention by the Vatican in the reporting arrangements," he declared.

"This is modern Ireland. This is not the time of the penal laws."

The Tanaiste was categorically throwing down the gauntlet right in front of the princes of the church who are unused to such challenges being issued from traditionally supine Irish governments.

But then again, he wasn't going over the top all on his own. For his broadside was part of a co-ordinated blitzkrieg on the status quo which the Government had launched as soon as the Cloyne Report hit the headlines. The Justice Minister had blown up the trench dividing church and state when he announced at the Cloyne Report press conference on Wednesday that he was introducing new legislation which would make it a criminal offence to fail to report paedophiles -- and priests will not be exempt, even if they are told of the abuse in confession.

And then yesterday out of the blue during the Order of Business in the Dail, Labour backbencher Aodhan O Riordain popped up with a suggestion.

'IF we are serious about breaking the link between church and state, to start proceedings every day here in this House with a prayer, for many people on these benches find it a difficult thing to have to stand to," he declared.

And then later in the afternoon, Fine Gael's Charlie Flanagan raised the stakes even higher by calling for the expulsion of the papal nuncio from Ireland.

When church and state collide, the reverberations can be immense.

There could be holy war yet.

Irish Independent