The divide between the Irish Government and the Catholic Church in Ireland became more profound last month with the Irish Parliament’s approval of new laws liberalizing abortion restrictions. The aggressive moves by the Fine Gael/ Labor coalition government, which included forced resignations if party members did not vote their leaders’ wishes, embittered many.
But Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s drive to lead the Irish Parliament to approval of relaxed abortion laws was only the latest in a list of serious problems between the Government and the Catholic Church that grew worse when his administration took power in March of 2011.
First came the infamous “Cloyne Report,” which was produced by a government investigation, centering on a Cork diocese and its leader, Bishop John McGee, for blatantly covering up and lying about allegations of sexual abuse by eleven diocesan priests. The report was a follow to the Elliott Report, initiated by the Catholic Church, which also indicated a lack of full reporting by Church authorities
The Cloyne report found that a majority of the abuse cases were not reported to the Garda as required by Church guidelines of 1996. Furthermore, the Cloyne report claimed, the Vatican refused to cooperate with report investigators, saying that the 1996 guidelines were not really binding, offering as evidence a letter written years ago by the then papal nuncio to Ireland, the late Archbishop Luciano Storero. This has been strongly denied as a convenient misinterpretation by Church spokesmen.
But the Government was ready for a fight. Kenny condemned the Vatican’s role in obstructing the investigation as a serious “infringement of the sovereignty of Ireland.” He also assailed the Vatican, claiming that evidence of “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and narcissism dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.” Very tough words.
Several seemingly retaliatory moves then occurred on both sides with no apparent effort made to discuss the problems. These were very angry men on both sides. The Cloyne Report became public on July 13, 2011, Kenny’s remarks were released July 20, and the Vatican recalled its nuncio on July 25. That’s a lot of heat in such a short time.
The Government then shocked the world by closing its Vatican embassy on Nov. 4, 2011. There are 175 countries with embassies in the Vatican, and today Ireland, supposedly a Catholic country, is no longer among them. Eamon Gilmore, head of Ireland’s Labor party, which is part of the coalition government currently in power, also serves as Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs minister. It was he who announced the embassy closing, saying it was an economy move. The closing of an embassy after such extraordinary criticism is considered a major insult not only by informed diplomats but also by serious governments everywhere.
After a report by the BBC news in May 2012, Gilmore, a self-described agnostic, called for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady, who from Armagh in Northern Ireland leads the Roman Catholic Church throughout Ireland. Some 37 years earlier, in his early time as a priest, Brady had acted as a secretary to a Church tribunal that was investigating sexual abuse charges by a particularly notorious priest. Gilmore felt that the young Brady should have gone to the police over the heads of his superiors and filed charges against the guilty priest. It was seen as another criticism of the Church by the Irsh government in power.
In May of this year Boston College honored Taoiseach Kenny with an honorary degree. Usually Boston’s cardinal-archbishop attends the university’s graduation exercises, but this year Cardinal Sean O’Malley decided not to attend. In reviewing all the has happened during this Irish Government’s short time in power – especially the closing of Ireland’s embassy at the Vatican – it should not have come as a surprise that a Catholic cardinal would refuse to participate in honoring Ireland’s leader. There is no doubt that the Catholic Church has and will suffer greatly from the priestly abuse crisis and the lack of action on its part to punish the perpetrators and correct the larger situation. I suppose that we, and the angry Irish Government, should remember that the vast majority of priests were not involved in sexual abuse and hope that the new pope, elected by a new group of cardinals that have suffered greatly over recent years, will calm things down and bring fresh sensibilities to the situation.