Spring 2012, Vol. 14, No. 1

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Spiritual Politics
Mark Silk's blog
on religion and politics 

Table of Contents

From the Editor:
    It's Baaack...

Religion and the Awakening

Repaving the Arab Street

Bishops in the Dock

Faithless Ireland

No Love for

The New Dominionist Politics


Without Benefit of Clergy

Cirque d'OCA

No Standing for It




Faithless Ireland
by Christine McCarthy McMorris

The afternoon was slowly winding down in Dublin last July 20 as the Dáil, Ireland’s lower House of Parliament, prepared to close for its summer break. Its last order of business was to debate a motion to “deplore” the Vatican’s role in the state’s fourth investigation of the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church, this one involving 19 priests of the diocese of Cloyne in County Cork from 1996 to 2009.

Only a few lawmakers and members of the press were on hand when Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny opened the discussion not with the expected mild criticism but by declaring that the Cloyne Report “exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.”

In an unequivocal declaration of independence, Kenny drew a line between Ireland’s past relationship with the Catholic church and its present:

“[T]his is not Rome. Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane
smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world.

“This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws.”

Within hours, the 15-minute speech would be headline news from New York to Dubai. As the Irish Independent’s media analyst Stephen O’Leary noted the following day, “In less than 48 hours, more than 1,000 articles had been published in over 800 publications in 64 countries around the world.” And for the next six months, Kenny’s scathing rebuke and its dramatic repercussions would consume the interest of the media in the Republic, dominating coverage of Ireland in the U.S. and even diverting attention from the onetime Celtic Tiger’s baby steps toward economic recovery.

Why, exactly, did this brief statement by the leader of a country containing a mere 3 million of the world’s approximately 1 billion Catholics catapult Enda Kenny into the international media spotlight?

Shawn Pogatchnik’s comprehensive July 20 AP story, “Ireland Denounces Vatican Role In Abuse Cover-ups,” was the source for much of the coverage, reprinted (or posted) in media outlets including the Boston Globe, the Knoxville Sentinel, the Seattle Post Intelligencer,, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Pogatchnik deftly identified what had drawn Kenny’s ire:

The abuse was not in the past: Bishop John Magee, a former private secretary to three popes, suppressed evidence of child rape and molestation as recently as 2009.

The defiance of Irish policy: Two-thirds of the complaints to the Cloyne Diocese were not passed on to the police force.

Interference by Rome: The Vatican sent a confidential letter to Irish Bishops (revealed in 2011), advising them that the Irish “child-protection policy, particularly its emphasis on the need to start reporting all suspected crimes to police, violated canon law.”

But the Cloyne Report itself had received only “limited international coverage,” as Steven Carroll pointed out in the Irish Times the day after its July 13 release. What grabbed journalists’ attention was that for the first time in history, the Vatican had been denounced by a leader of Ireland, that historic bastion of Roman Catholicism, still with a population 85 percent Catholic. And not just by any leader, but a self-described practicing Catholic from the rural, traditionally conservative county of Mayo, no anti-clerical leftist but head of the center-right Fine Gael party.

“Irish Prime Minister Slams Vatican Over Child Sex Abuse” ran CNN’s July 20 headline. ABC’s July 21 online story, opening with “Irish PM has launched a blistering attack on the Vatican,” did not omit to tell readers that Kenny was “a practicing Catholic.” On July 24, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that Kenny’s denunciation “would have been remarkable coming from any leader in one of the many countries scarred by pedophile priests, but from the devoutly Catholic prime minister… it was breathtaking.”

In the Irish press, there was relief that a member of the political elite had finally responded to the angry mood of the public. The Irish Times described the speech as “an expression of the furious anger he has felt from his political base, middle Ireland, conservative Catholic Ireland.” Taking the pulse of the survivor community in the Irish Examiner, Fiachra Ó Cionnaith quoted One in Four founder (and clerical abuse survivor) Colm O’Gorman hailing the address as “groundbreaking,” but also remarking with some bitterness that it was “something he had personally been waiting to hear for more than a decade.”

Novelist and journalist Gene Kerrigan’s July 24 opinion piece in the Irish Independent (“About Bloody Time You Spoke Up, Enda,”) was less polite: “Why has it taken so long to state the blindingly obvious?”

Some members of the clergy also took their support of the Taoiseach to the media, as his popularity rocketed to the highest of his political career (62 percent). Rev. Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests told the Irish Times July 22, “The laity, clergy and, I suspect, some bishops are happy that Enda Kenny has drawn a line in the sand.”

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, whose advocacy of complete transparency has not endeared him to the Vatican, made an emotional appearance on RTÉ state television July 21. Describing church leaders who didn’t report abuse as “a cabal,” he confessed, “I find myself asking today, can I be proud of the Church that I’m a leader of?”

Rome wasted little time in reacting. On July 25, the Irish Times led off: “The Vatican has recalled its envoy to Ireland following Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s trenchant criticism of the Holy See’s role in covering up cases of clerical child sex abuse.” In the Cork-based Irish Examiner, Conor Ryan reported that while the Vatican Press Office first denied a connection between the speech and papal nuncio Giuseppe Leanza’s hasty return, subsequently the office’s vice director told Vatican radio that the recall was tied to “the excess of the criticism.”

Although the Irish government demanded an official response to the Cloyne Report by the end of July, it was not until September 3 that the Vatican released a 24-page report denying any interference with the investigation. The legalistic tone of the response (“The Holy See further observes that there is no evidence cited anywhere to support the claim that its ‘intervention’ contributed to their ‘undermining’) did little to appease the Irish.

Reaction to the Vatican’s report was negative and swift. A September 4 New York Times article by Rachel Donadio quoted Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister) Eamon Gilmore as saying that he “held firm to the view that the Vatican had interfered in the affairs of a sovereign, democratic state.” Terrance McKiernan, president of Bishop, told Donadio that the response “shows that the Vatican is still in denial.”

Relations between Ireland and Rome sunk to an all-time low during the fall. reported September 4 on Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s vow to pass a law “requiring priests to report suspicions of child abuse, even if they learn about them in confession.” On September 26, Amnesty International fanned the flames by releasing a 430-page report that found that the sexual abuse of children by Ireland’s Roman Catholic priests “included acts that amounted to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

In an escalation of the diplomatic warfare, Gilmore announced on November 3 that Ireland was closing its embassy in Vatican City (though not diplomatic relations with the Holy See). This was, as Reuters’ Philip Pullella reported the following day, “a huge blow to the Holy See’s prestige.”

Gilmore, who is also leader of Ireland’s Labour Party in a coalition government, flatly stated that closing embassies in Vatican City, Iran, and Timor Leste was a money-saving effort in a time of austerity. The Holy See knew better, according to Pullella: “Rome-based diplomats said they believed it [the sexual abuse scandals] probably played a major role.”

Compared to Kenny’s July reproach, Gilmore’s announcement was met with less enthusiasm at home. Paddy Agnew’s excellent analysis in the Irish Times November 4 questioned the embassy’s closing for practical reasons: It would cut Ireland off from “one of the world’s best listening posts.”

Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of Ireland, released a statement expressing his “profound disappointment” over a decision that could lead to a weakening of the two states’ “shared commitment to justice, peace, international development and concern for the common good.”

By February of 2012, the real-ization that the closure might indeed lessen Ireland’s influence on the world stage inspired Kenny’s Fine Gael party to propose a motion to reconsider the embassy closing. Digging in, Gilmore announced the government had “no immediate plans to review the decision.” European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, in an interview with Irish Examiner political reporter Juno McEnroe February 10, held out hope that tensions would eventually ease. “I think it will reopen, not in the short term but I think within the next year or two if economic conditions allow,” she said.
Six months out, Kenny’s ground-shaking speech had not only increased the Taoiseach’s popularity but also raised expectations that the state would step up and, as promised, pass legislation making it a crime not to report child abuse to the authorities; urge the Justice Department to bring charges in the more recent cases of abuse; and cut by 50 percent the number of schools run by the Church.

Internationally, the widespread coverage opened the eyes of the world to the fact that religion in Ireland isn’t what it used to be. Today, Ireland is much closer to other culturally Catholic EU countries, with legal contraception and divorce, gay partnerships protected by national law, and weekly Mass attendance dropping in Dublin to 14 percent.

But it was the Irish Times’ hard-working religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry, quoted by Sarah Lyall of the New York Times September 13, who declared the bottom line: “The obsequiousness of the Irish state toward the Vatican is gone. The deference is gone.”

When Pope John Paul II made his triumphant trip to Ireland 33 years ago, two-thirds of the population turned out to see him, including one million people for an outdoor Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. “The Pope, before boarding his aircraft home, said: ‘Ireland—semper fidelis, always faithful,’” remembered the Irish Times’ Joe Carroll.

Asked this year if Pope Benedict should make his own visit to Ireland for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in June, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told RTÉ radio, “I think a papal visit will only have significance when many of these issues of our past are fully addressed.”

In other words, we’ll call you when we’re ready.


For Enda Kenny’s July 20th address, go to:

The Cloyne Report:



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