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Ireland Closes its Embassy to the Holy See: Details and Analysis

Yesterday evening came a surprise announcement: Ireland will  close its Embassy to the Holy See in a move the Irish governement says is needed to cut government costs.

The Irish embassy to the Holy See, located on the Janiculum Hill near to the residence of the American Ambassador to the Holy See and near the American Academy in Rome, is the Villa Spada, the single most valuable property of all the Irish embassies in the world, according to reports.

However, note well:  Ireland will not be selling the Villa, but moving staff from its Embassy to Itay over to the Villa Spada to work there.

Many observers are seeing this decision as a severe blow to the Vatican’s international prestige, and that view seems correct — it is a blow to the Holy See that a country with as long a Catholic tradition as Ireland has decided to close its embassy.

Most observers are also seeing it as a direct retaliation of the Irish government against the Church for the Church’s many years of allegedly lax supervision in dozens of cases of child abuse and sexual abuse (see the articles reproduced below).

Two points need especially to be stressed.

First, this may not be a unique case. No one knows for sure, but there are already persistent whispers in diplomatic circles here that as many as 40 countries are considering closing their embassies to the Holy See.

If this is even one-third true, the trajectory of the Vatican’s diplomatic importance in world affairs will be downward, following several decades in which the diplomatic role of the Vatican — especially under Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) — seemed crucial, even decisive, in a world divided into two blocs, one capitalist, one communist. So the Vatican’s “diplomatic weight” seems, already with this decision, and potentially even more so with similar decisions, to be in decline.

Second, the consequences. What are the consequences for the world of a dimished diplomatic role for the Holy See?

Inevitably, that the Church’s positions on social and moral issues would receive less attention.

The Church’s views, on the level of the world’s political elites, would be, in effect, marginalized.

The Church’s moral voice would be, quite effectively, diminished, weakened, muffled, precisely at the moment when many moral debates — over the nature of marriage; over the “life issues” from abortion, sterilization and contraception through organ harvesting and euthanasia; over the justice or injustice of our globalized, and globalizing, economic system — are reaching a pitch of intensity, and are being decided and set into the “stone” of codified law.

Whatever opposition the Church might have to some of these developments will be less influential, less consequential, if the Church’s diplomatic prestige is reduced.

Here are several articles, each of which has one or two unique points of information. Together, they serve to give a fairly complete picture of what has just occurred.

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Report from RTE, the Irish National Television, from the perspective of Ireland

Friday, 4 November 2011
 
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has announced plans to close three of Ireland’s diplomatic missions, including its embassy to the Vatican.

The Government has decided to close Ireland’s embassies to the Vatican and Iran as well as its representative office in Timor Leste.

In a statement this evening, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that the decision followed a review of overseas missions carried out by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which gave “particular attention to the economic return from bilateral missions”.

Mr Gilmore said that the Government was obliged to implement cuts to meet targets set out in the EU/IMF rescue programme.

He said the closure of the three embassies would save around €1.25m a year.

He said that while the embassy to the Holy See was one of Ireland’s oldest missions, it yielded no economic return, and that Ireland’s interests could be sufficiently represented by a non-resident ambassador.

He said the Government will be seeking the agreement of the Holy See to the appointment of a senior diplomat to this position.

Speaking this evening, Mr Gilmore said the closure of the embassy in the Holy See was not related to the recalling of the Papal Nuncio from Ireland earlier this year.

The Tánaiste said the Government would not be selling Villa Spada, the Irish embassy in the Vatican. Instead, staff working in embassy to Italy in Rome, which is a rented premises, will be transferred to Villa Spada.

Responding to the decision, the Primate of Ireland said he wished to express his “profound disappointment” at the closure.

“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,” said Cardinal Seán Brady.

The Vatican also issued a statement this evening in which it said noted the decision. It said every state was “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.”

The prestigious Villa Spada is the most valuable property owned by the diplomatic service.

A spokesman for Mr Gilmore said that it was for the Holy See to decide the manner of its representation here.

The Vatican was among the first states with which the newly independent Irish Free State established full diplomatic relations in the 1920s.

He also said the move would allow for the relocation of six staff to offset losses elsewhere in the diplomatic service.

The changes announced today are expected to come into force in the New Year.

In his statement, Mr Gilmore said that trade volumes in Iran had fallen short of expectations, leading the Government to close the embassy in Tehran and to seek Iran’s agreement to a non-resident accreditation. The office in Timor Leste had been opened in 2000, to administer a bilateral aid programme, and while this programme would continue, Mr Gilmore said, it was no longer necessary to maintain a resident office in Dili. Ireland’s ambassador in Singapore will continue to be accredited to Timor Leste, he said.

Mr Gilmore said that the Government would continue to review Ireland’s network of diplomatic and consular missions “to ensure that it reflects our present day needs and yields value for money”.

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(2) Report from the Reuters news agency in Rome

Vatican stunned by Irish embassy closure

Ireland to shut Vatican embassy in financial crisis cost overhaul

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY | Fri Nov 4, 2011 11:57am EDT
(Reuters) – Catholic Ireland’s stunning decision to close its embassy to the Vatican is a huge blow to the Holy See’s prestige and may be followed by other countries which feel the missions are too expensive, diplomatic sources said on Friday.

The closure brought relations between Ireland and the Vatican, once ironclad allies, to an all-time low following the row earlier this year over the Irish Church’s handling of sex abuse cases and accusations that the Vatican had encouraged secrecy.

Ireland will now be the only major country of ancient Catholic tradition without an embassy to the Vatican.

“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,” said a Vatican diplomatic source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

He said Ireland informed the Vatican shortly before the announcement was made on Thursday night.

Dublin’s foreign ministry said the embassy was being closed because “it yields no economic return” and that relations would be continued with an ambassador in Dublin.

The source said the Vatican was “extremely irritated” by the wording equating diplomatic missions with economic return, particularly as the Vatican sees its diplomatic role as promoting human values.

Diplomats said the Irish move might sway others to follow suit to save money because double diplomatic presences in Rome are expensive.

It was the latest crack in relations that had been seen as rock solid until a few years ago.

DAMNING REPORT

In 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 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.

“All things being equal, I really doubt the mission to the Vatican would have been on the list to get the axe without the fallout from the sex abuse scandal,” one ambassador to the Vatican said, on condition of anonymity.

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,” Brady said in a statement.

The Vatican has been an internationally recognized 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.

It has diplomatic relations with 179 countries. About 80 have resident ambassadors and the rest are based in other European cities.

The Vatican guards its diplomatic independence fiercely and in the past has resisted moves by some countries to locate their envoys to the Holy See inside their embassies to Italy.

Dublin said it was closing its mission to the Vatican along with those in Iran and East Timor to help meet its fiscal goals under an EU-IMF bailout. The closures will save the government 1.25 million euros ($1.725 million) a year.

(Additional reporting by Carmel Crimmins and Conor Humphries in Dublin; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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 (3) Report in The (Manchester) Guardian of England

 Ireland closure of Vatican embassy angers Catholic church leaders

Cardinal Sean Brady ‘profoundly disappointed’ by cost-cutting move, which follows series of rows over sex abuse scandal

Henry McDonald in Dublin

Friday 4 November 2011 12.25 GMT
Ireland’s closure of its Vatican embassy ‘shows little regard for its historic ties with the Holy See, Cardinal Sean Brady says.

The leader of Ireland’s Catholics has criticised the republic’s government for closing its embassy to Vatican City.

Cardinal Sean Brady expressed his “profound disappointment” over the move, which comes after diplomatic clashes this year between the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and the Holy See over the Vatican’s handling of the clerical child sex abuse scandals in Ireland.

“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,” the cardinal said on Friday.

The Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Eamon Gilmore, said the decision followed a review of overseas missions which gave “particular attention to the economic return from bilateral missions”.

Gilmore said the government had also decided to close Ireland’s embassies to Iran as well as its representative office in Timor-Leste He said the coalition was obliged to implement cuts to meet targets set out in the EU/IMF rescue programme for the Irish economy.

The foreign minister pointed out that the closure of the three embassies would save about €1.25m (£1.1m) a year. He said that while the embassy to the Holy See was one of Ireland’s oldest missions, it yielded no economic return, and that Ireland’s interests could be sufficiently represented by a non-resident ambassador. The administration will be seeking the agreement of the Holy See to the appointment of a senior diplomat to this position, he added.

Gilmore stressed that the closure of the embassy in the Holy See was not related to the recalling of the Papal Nuncio from Ireland this year. He added that the government would not be selling Villa Spada, the Irish embassy in the Vatican. Instead, staff working in the embassy to Italy in Rome, which is a rented premises, will be transferred to Villa Spada.

The Vatican also said every state was “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.”

The prestigious Villa Spada is the most valuable property owned by the diplomatic service. The Vatican was among the first states with which the newly independent Irish Free State established full diplomatic relations in the 1920s.

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 (4) Report by John Allen, correspondent for the American Catholic weekly National Catholic Reporter

 Ireland closes Vatican embassy

November 03, 2011 NCR Today

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.

In a move that will likely be taken in some quarters as a snub, Ireland has decided to close its embassy to the Holy See. In effect, the move means that Ireland will no longer have full-time diplomatic representation at the Vatican.

Even after the embassy’s closure, Ireland will still have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Today’s move was announced in tandem with the closure of two other Irish diplomatic missions, in Iran and in East Timor.

An Irish official said that the country was obliged to make budget cuts in accord with the terms of an EU/IMF rescue plan, and that while the embassy to the Vatican was one of Ireland’s oldest embassies, its work could be performed by a non-resident official.
Though both the Irish government and the Vatican made statements today insisting that the relationship is on a solid footing, the closure nevertheless comes against the backdrop of mounting diplomatic tension between the two parties, primarily fueled by the sexual abuse crisis in the once ultra-Catholic nation.

In July, a government investigation of the Cloyne diocese in Ireland found cases of sexual abuse which were allegedly mishandled as recently as 2009. Many Irish commentators faulted the Vatican for its handling of the crisis, including Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who publicly blasted what he called the “dysfunction, disconnection and elitism, the narcissism, that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day.”

Some Irish politicians floated the idea of extending criminal penalties for failure to report accusations of abuse even to the sacrament of the confessional. In the wake of the furor touched off by the Cloyne report and Kenny’s remarks, the Vatican announced it was recalling its ambassador to Ireland for “consultations.”

In September, the Vatican issued an usually detailed 11,000-word response to Kenny’s criticism. Among other things, it argued that a 1997 letter from a Vatican official to the Irish bishops, warning them that mandatory reporter policies could conflict with church law, was not intended to prevent the bishops from reporting child abuse to the police. Instead, the Vatican said, the point was to make sure that abusers could not evade ecclesial punishment on a technicality.

In the context of that back-and-forth, some observers may be tempted to see the closure of the Irish embassy as a further rebuke by the government. Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, by tradition the Primate of Ireland, today expressed “profound disappointment” over the move.

“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,” Brady said.

Apart from the specifics of the Irish situation, some Vatican-watchers might wonder if today’s decision could be a harbinger of things to come. Last year, veteran Italian journalist Massimo Franco published a book titled Once Upon a Time, There was a Vatican,arguing that the Holy See’s international influence is in decline.

Franco described a scene at a diplomatic reception in Rome in which one Western ambassador to the Vatican looked around the room at his colleagues, and openly wondered how many of those governments would still have embassies to the Vatican in ten years’ time.

Under Pope John Paul II, the number of nations with which the Vatican has diplomatic relations grew significantly, and today stands at 179. Of those, only 80 have ambassadors living in Rome. Most of the rest assign responsibility for the relationship to a diplomat in another country.

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, issued a statement today about the decision. The full text of that statement, in an NCR translation, appears below.

Vatican Statement on Closure of Irish Embassy

The Holy See takes note of the decision of Ireland to close its Embassy to the Holy See in Rome. Naturally, every state that has diplomatic relations with the Holy See 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’s important are the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the states, and these are not in question with regard to Ireland.


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  • noelfitz

    I am saddened by the decision to close the Irish embassy to the Holy See.

    It has caused very little interest or response in Ireland, which will have the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs acting as ambassador, along with other responsibilities.

    In the long run Ireland’s interests may not be served. It may be a case of “cutting off your nose to spite your face”.