Relations between the Irish government and the Roman Catholic church reached a historic nadir on Monday when the Vatican recalled its ambassador to Dublin, claiming “excessive reactions” in the Republic to the clerical child sex abuse crisis.
The Vatican confirmed that papal nuncio, archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was returning to Rome for discussions over a damning report published earlier this month that had accused the Catholic hierarchy of undermining the Irish church’s own policy of reporting child abuse to the authorities.
His recall followed an unprecedented and blistering attack by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on the Vatican’s role in the alleged cover-up of abuse in the County Cork diocese of Cloyne.
Since a historic denunciation of the Vatican in the Irish parliament last week, Kenny has become something of a hero across the Republic. He received a standing ovation at a writers’ summer school in County Donegal on Sunday when he said he had been “astounded” over the number of messages of support he had been given.
His withering criticism of the Vatican is all the more historic given that his party, Fine Gael, has been traditionally the stoutest defender of the church’s power and privilege in the Republic.
Seeking to play down the diplomatic row on Monday night, the vice director of the Vatican press office, Father Ciro Benedettini, said that the recall “should be interpreted as an expression of the Holy See for serious and effective collaboration with the Irish government.”
However, he added: “It denotes the seriousness of the situation and the Holy See’s desire to face it objectively and determinately. Nor does it exclude some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions.”
Breaking with decades of deference to the Catholic hierarchy both at home and in Rome, Kenny told the Dail last week that “the rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, in power, standing and reputation.”
He stuck to his critical stance over the Vatican and the Cloyne report at the event on Sunday.
He said that it reflected the way Irish people felt about the Catholic Church’s role in the clerical abuse scandal.
The deputy editor of the Irish Catholic on Monday night claimed that most Catholics in the Republic would back Kenny rather than the Vatican in the controversy.
“I would expect that the diplomats in the Vatican’s secretariat of state will have been extremely surprised by the tone of Enda Kenny’s speech in the Dail, but also by the widespread and positive public reaction to the speech,” Michael Kelly said. “Mr Kenny was, I believe, articulating the sense of exacerbation that a lot of Irish people, not least Irish Catholics, have felt for too long about the church’s disastrous inability to come to terms with this crisis.”
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