Ireland is the first major Catholic nation to break ties with the Vatican over the child sex abuse issue. Other closures are likely to follow, now that Ireland has shown the way.
Ireland's decision to close its embassy in the Vatican for “economic reasons” has both stunned and infuriated the Holy See, especially since other closures — now that Catholic Ireland has shown the way — are likely to follow.
The Irish decision has brought relations between Dublin and the Vatican, once very close and considered unbreakable, to an all-time low. Besides economic considerations, which, given the present state of the Irish economy are real enough, there is simmering anger in Dublin over the Vatican's protracted cover-up of priests who sexually abused children in their care.
Ireland is the first major Catholic nation to break ties with the Holy See.
An Indian source at the Vatican said this decision “comes at a particularly bad time when the world is going through troubled times, both morally and economically. The Church has solutions to offer but politicians are unwilling to hear them.”
An unnamed Vatican source speaking to the Reuters agency said: “This is really bad for the Vatican because Ireland is the first big Catholic country to do this and because of what Catholicism means in Irish history.” The Vatican attempted to put up a brave face on these developments, masking its disappointment in a communique which said every state is “free to decide, on the basis of its possibilities and its interests, whether to have an ambassador to the Holy See resident in Rome or in another country. What is important is diplomatic relations between the Holy See and states, and these are not in question with regard to Ireland.”
In a communique the Irish Foreign Ministry said the mission was being closed because “it yields no economic return” and that relations would be continued with an ambassador in Dublin. However, observers said the closure of the embassy at the Holy See, Iran and Timor-Leste would result in economies of a paltry €1.2 million per year.
The real reason behind the closure is Irish anger over what they see as the Vatican's double talk over repeated and continuous sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Ireland. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has accused Rome of stonewalling, if not obstructing, official enquiries into the abuse which went on as late as 2009. He said the Church was guilty of “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism.”
Ireland has been one of the most faithful daughters of the Catholic Church, banning abortion even today and introducing divorce only in 1995. But the very close relationship enjoyed by the Vatican with successive Irish governments was severely damaged by a series of reports over the Church's seemingly deliberate obliviousness to child sex abuse by Catholic priests. Indeed in Ireland, most educational institutions were at one time almost exclusively run by the Church and abuse and harsh, even inhuman, treatment of children flourished.
“The decision to close the embassy does not surprise me,” Ms Moira D., an Irish journalist based in Paris told The Hindu. “For months now, there has been seething anger towards the hypocrisy of Rome and this decision will be welcomed by the people.” Ms D said she was herself a victim of abuse at the hands of priests and nuns several decades ago and has asked for reparations. “We were placed in care after our parents left Ireland because of financial worries. My father could have gone to debtors' prison and nobody wanted that. We were six and my brother — the only boy — became a schizophrenic and remains institutionalised today as a result of the abuse he suffered. Looking back now it seems unreal, as if it happened in a long gone barbaric era, but it was true nonetheless and it happened not that long ago,” she said.
Last July, the Vatican took the highly unusual step of recalling its ambassador to Ireland after Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Holy See of obstructing investigations into sexual abuse by priests. The Irish parliament passed a motion deploring the Vatican's role in “undermining child protection frameworks” following the publication of a damning report on the diocese of Cloyne. The Cloyne report said Irish clerics concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, after the Vatican disparaged Irish child protection guidelines in a letter to Irish bishops.
While Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore denied the embassy closure was linked to the row over sexual abuse, Rome-based diplomats said they believed it probably played a major role. Gilmore stressed that the decision to close down the Embassy in the Vatican was unrelated to the Holy See's recall of Papal Nuncio to Ireland this year. The Irish government, he said, will not sell Villa Spada, a hugely valuable property which serves as the Irish mission to the Vatican. Instead, staff from the Irish embassy to Italy will be moved from rented premises to the Villa Spada.
Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said he was profoundly disappointed by the decision and hoped the government would “revisit” it. “This decision seems to show little regard for the important role played by the Holy See in international relations and of the historic ties between the Irish people and the Holy See over many centuries,” Cardinal Brady said.
The Vatican has been an internationally recognised sovereign city-state since 1929, when Italy compensated the Catholic Church for a vast area of central Italy known as the Papal States that was taken by the state at Italian unification in 1860.