WITH relations between Ireland and the Holy See at their lowest point, the Vatican yesterday performed a neat diplomatic manoeuvre. It implied -- and more than implied -- a rebuke and a complaint, but left every option open.
Normally the recall to base of an ambassador is regarded as marking a serious deterioration in relations between his masters and the host country. The same applies with even greater force to a papal nuncio, the representative of the Pope. Yesterday the Vatican took pains not to suggest that the recall of Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza signalled an outright breach.
It did so by stating that he had been called back for consultations on the Cloyne Report. Fair enough: the consultations are important, and no doubt the Papal Nuncio has much to contribute to them.
But then the deputy Vatican spokesman, Father Ciro Benedetti, added that the recall also expressed "a certain note of surprise and regret regarding some excessive reactions".
Had we all not taken a passionate interest in the subject and learned so much about it, that might have suggested a slap on the wrist for some minor political figure, to be followed by an assurance from the Irish ambassador that anyone guilty of "excessive reaction" had spoken in the heat of the moment and in any case did not represent public opinion.
This might have worked at one time, with no loss of face on either side. It will not work now. The reaction in question was the Taoiseach's reaction. And public opinion agrees overwhelmingly with his criticism of the Holy See's handling of child protection in Ireland.
Enda Kenny's Dail speech last Wednesday confirmed that the political tectonic plates had shifted. The diplomatic tectonic plates must follow if necessary.
The differences between the Irish Government and the Holy See must be discussed, and solved, with courtesy but also with frankness. They must not give birth to half-apologies and half-promises. Put simply, the Government must ensure that the laws regarding clerical sex abuse are obeyed -- by itself in the first place, and by all other authorities.
And it is greatly in the Vatican's interest to make its peace with our Government. The Taoiseach's speech has received sensational world coverage. Catholics everywhere stand amazed at the spectacle of Ireland and the Holy See openly at odds. The dispute must be resolved, but not by opaque words or diplomatic manoeuvres.