Five years after his unprecedented attack on Church and Vatican Embassy closure Taoiseach mends fences with Pope Francis in Rome
By Adam Shaw
Pope Francis will visit Ireland in 2018. Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed the much-anticipated visit will happen after the two leaders met at the Vatican for 23 minutes on Monday.
That meeting showed how dramatically relations between Ireland and the Vatican have changed since the Taoiseach’s blistering criticism from the floor of the Dail of the Catholic Church’s coverup of abuse cases.
That was followed later that year by the closure of Ireland’s Embassy to the Holy See “on economic grounds”, an act that would once have been considered unthinkable in Ireland. That decision was reversed in January 2014 and in April of that year Mr Kenny met Pope Francis, briefly, for the first time when he was in Rome for the canonisation of Popes John XXlll and John Paul ll. At that time the Taoiseach said he invited Pope Francis to Ireland.
This week’s meeting was, unlike that in April 2014, a proper audience with the leader of the world’s Catholics. During his 23-minute audience Mr Kenny said he and the Pope spoke about several local and global issues including youth unemployment and climate change. He said the meeting had been “completely relaxed and very friendly” and that the Pope had a “particular presence”.
“I did discuss with him a number of issues that would, in my view, help greatly his visit when it comes in 2018. That’s an area which I think he appreciates,” he said. “I did refer him to his own comments in America when I think he was very clear about members of the clergy who abused children and his statement on that was quite clear and very strong. I agreed with him 100 per cent.”
Pope Francis will be 80 later this month, on 17 December meaning he will be nearly 82 when he visits Ireland. Pope John Paul ll was just 59 when he visited Ireland in 1979.
In 2011 Enda Kenny said:
“The Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.” “This calculated, withering position [is] the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.”
This week he said:
“The meeting I had with him was completely relaxed and very friendly.” “This is a Pope who has visited places that people did not expect him to visit. He is a Pope who is deliberately moving the Church back towards the people, particularly those who are poor.”
Five years ago, Mr Kenny launched his unprecedented attack on the Church, accusing it of intolerable elitism, dysfunction, disconnection and narcissism. With specific reference to the sex abuse scandal which rocked the Catholic community, he questioned whether the Vatican and Ireland could repair its deep historical ties.
“The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’,” he told the Dáil in July 2011.
“The revelations of the Cloyne Report have brought the government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture.”
Mr Kenny praised Pope Francis for his dedication to reforming the Church and for recognising the need for greater community involvement.
“This is a Pope who has visited places that people did not expect him to visit. He is a Pope who is deliberately moving the Church back towards the people, particularly those who are poor,” he said.
The Taoiseach would neither confirm nor deny if he had raised – as briefed by “sources close to the Taoiseach” to Irish media outlets before the visit – the issue of the six Irish priests, one who has since died, whose views on fundamental Church policies have been censored. The priests – Fr Brian D’Arcy, Fr Owen O’Sullivan, Fr Gerry Moloney, Fr Iggy O’Donovan, Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Sean Fagan – were silenced by Popes John Paul ll and Pope Benedict XVl because of their statements challenging church orthodoxy on a number of matters ranging from priestly celibacy to the ordination of woman.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) ruled that their writings must be censored and approved by their own local hierarchies. Brian D’Arcy, Fr Owen O’Sullivan, Fr Gerry Moloney and Fr Iggy O’Donovan must submit anything they intend to publish to such censors.
Fr Tony Flannery, of the Association of Catholic Priests, refused to renounce his opinions which disagreed with the Church’s bans on ordaining women and artificial contraception and its teachings on homosexuality and was subsequently removed from the ministry. The final member of the sextet, Fr Sean Fagan, died in July.
The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference had previously extended an invitation to the Pope to visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, which will be held in Dublin in two years time.
Mr Kenny confirmed that His Holiness had accepted this invitation and explained that he hopes to see him travel to Northern Ireland as part of his visit given that the Church had “greatly helped” to bring peace to the region. During his 1979 tour, Pope John Paul II was scheduled to visit the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland in Armagh but was forced to pull out following the murder of Lord Mountbatten.
“I said to him that very point that John Paul couldn’t go because of The Troubles at the time,” Mr Kenny said. “He did pray for peace on his knees at that time and ask the men of violence to give up their ways. “So he did say that the schedule will be worked out in dialogue between the bishops and the Church themselves.
“What I said to him was he’s going to be very welcome. The Government will make whatever arrangements it needs to make. If it transpires that the Pope wants to go Northern Ireland for a visit that we will cooperate and work with the executive.”
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was confident that the Pope would travel north of the Border on his Irish visit.
The visit will also potentially coincide with an expected referendum on Ireland’s constitutional prohibition on abortion. Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said she was unconcerned about this possible clash but added that when discussing the right to life of the unborn with equal regard to the life of the mother, it is important to ensure that the debate remains formal and that people are provided with as much information as possible.
She added that while people are entitled to religious beliefs, they must be aware that, in a republic, the law will cater for all who live under it.