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‘Ireland Stand Up’ is leading a powerful grassroots campaign to reverse the closure of Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See: the politicians will now retreat

And Benedict XVI will once more weave his magic at a great papal Mass

By on Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Enda Kenny has a word in the ear of his foreign minister, Eamon Gilmore, who announced the closure of the embassy last year (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Enda Kenny has a word in the ear of his foreign minister, Eamon Gilmore, who announced the closure of the embassy last year (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Last July, you will remember, the Taoiseach made an unprecedented attack on the Catholic Church in general and the Vatican – which it said had adopted a “calculated, withering position” – in particular. This followed a judicial report into the mishandling of abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, according to which the Vatican had been “entirely unhelpful” to Irish bishops drawing up guidelines to tackle abuse; according to the Taoiseach, the report “excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day”.

Mary Kenny commented in the Telegraph that “Our Irish parents and grandparents would find astonishing the acidly anti-clerical views expressed in the Republic of Ireland today. The land that once called itself a foremost Catholic nation and most loyal ally of the Holy Father is awash with sentiments that seem to veer between Ulster Paisleyism and the Spanish republicanism of the 1930s”.

The Irish foreign minister a few months later announced that the Government had decided to close the Irish embassy to the Holy See, saying that it cost too much and that given Ireland’s current financial situation, with great regret, and bla de bla de bla. Whatever the excuse, the closure was pretty clearly part of a continuing anti-Vatican (and anti-Catholic) campaign by the Irish government.

But how far was all that part of a real and fundamental rejection by the Irish people of the Catholic religion itself? George Weigel, from across the Atlantic, pronounced confidently that “Ireland has now become the epicentre of European anti-Catholicism”. But this was always a ludicrous conclusion to reach. Of course, there had been a huge disenchantment with the Irish bishops, and widespread calls for radical reform in the way the Irish Church was actually run. But to suggest that the Irish had lost their faith, that there had been a massive cultural shift leading to the kind of secularisation that we have seen on this side of the Irish sea, even to the birth of an anti-Catholicism on the scale suggested by George Weigel, was always utterly absurd.

As I wrote at the time,

The real point about the Irish people is that they have not become disenchanted with the Catholic religion at all; it’s precisely by the moral standards of the Catholic religion that they are now judging all too many bishops and some, a small minority but still far too many, clergy. The child abuse scandals themselves have brought no decline in Mass attendance. On the contrary, far from being the “epicentre” of European anti-Catholicism, the practice of the Catholic religion is one of the highest in Europe.

As Michael Kelly pointed out in the Irish Catholic in April: “Decline in Church attendance in Ireland happened long before revelations about abuse and the subsequent cover-up. Polls show that in 1981 a staggering 88 per cent of Irish people attended Mass at least once a month, with 82 per cent attending weekly. By 2006 that figure had slipped to just 48 per cent for weekly Mass attendance while that figure climbs to 67 per cent when those who attend at least once a month are factored in.

Subsequent polls have been fairly consistent, putting weekly Mass attendance somewhere between 45 per cent and 48 per cent. These are remarkably high figures by western European standards (the latest figures for Italy are 22 per cent and approximately 10 per cent for France). The fact is that the rebellion of the chattering and political classes against the power of the bishops (in itself not necessarily a bad thing) was never remotely a rejection by a largely Catholic people of their faith. And that, it seems, is now being borne out by recent events. According to a piece in the Catholic World Report,

the Irish Government is now coming under increased grassroots pressure to reverse its always controversial decision to close the country’s Embassy to the Holy See:

Dozens of parliamentarians – including many from the Fine Gael and Labour coalition parties – attended a meeting in Dublin January 18 called to highlight opposition to the closure and some 96,000 postcards have been sent to Prime Minister Enda Kenny by members of several different lay initiatives and individual Catholics protesting the move.

‘Ireland Stand Up’ is campaigning for the closure of the embassy to be reversed and for the Government to issue an invitation for Pope Benedict XVI to visit the country.

Note the name of that movement: “Ireland stand up”: this is a movement of the people against politicians who have now gone just too far (incidentally, almost a third of TDs (Irish MPs) – backbenchers, with their regular contact with their constituencies, are often better informed than ministers about grassroots opinion – attended that meeting calling for the Irish embassy to the Vatican to be reopened). The CWR reports that the energy around the campaign to restore the embassy to the Holy See has surprised many. “Ordinary Catholics seem to have found a voice around this issue,” they quote David Quinn of the think tank the Iona Institute as saying.

It’s one thing for Irish politicians to get out from under the historically excessive political power of the bishops: that can never now be re-established, and probably a good thing, too. But the political attacks on the Vatican itself were a big mistake. When you have lost faith in your bishops, it’s the Pope you look to. “Ireland Stand Up” wants the Pope to celebrate Mass at the closing ceremonies of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress next June in Croke Park, Dublin. I have a feeling that that will happen. Pope Benedict will come and celebrate Mass before a vast congregation: and he will once more, by the great power of his visible holiness and humility, weave his magic. Just as his visit here led to many salutary changes in the English Church, so the regeneration of the Irish Church, and the beginning of the restoration of its morale, will be set in motion then.

  • The Big Fella

    I do hope you are right about the Holy Father visiting Ireland this year. And you are certainly right about the embassy closure being clearly part of a continuing anti-Catholic campaign by the Irish government. The Labour Party is in the driving seat, and problem is, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait for the attack on Catholic education!  

  • Shane

    I disagree with you William. The embassy needs to stay closed.  Have ‘Ireland Stand Up’ (what a ridiculous name!) really contemplated the nature and purpose of the Irish state’s diplomatic relations with the Holy See? Do they genuinely think that it is in the interests of the Irish Church? If so, why? What leads them to conclude that Irish diplomats and bureaucrats are motivated by any concern for Ireland’s spiritual welfare or for the health of the Irish Church? No, as paid servants of a secular government they are charged with acting on mere temporal and political considerations.Currently seven of Ireland’s twenty-six dioceses are without a bishop and all bar four of the rest have bishops over the age of 65. The next few years will be extremely decisive in shaping the future mould of Irish Catholicism. New bishops who are appointed will be young and in their position for years to come. It is therefore indispensable that those bishops appointed to replace the current lot (who have failed disastrously) are unimpeachably orthodox, supportive of traditional liturgy, and are committed to a re-evangelization of Irish society. How likely is it that the Irish government will want to see such bishops appointed?  Progressives dominate the Irish ecclesiastical infrastructure. (Orthodox Catholicism is powerless in the Irish Church and without a voice.) They will mobilize and lobby both the Vatican and the Irish state to secure the appointment of progressive bishops and the rejection of conservative ones. Irish diplomats and politicians with sympathize with them on an ideological level but also because outspoken bishops are more likely to forcefully challenge the government’s increasingly liberal social policy. They will lobby the Vatican for or against certain candidates. It was not for nothing that many French anti-clericals opposed the 1905 separation of Church and State, which turned out to be hugely beneficial to the Church in the long run. (Although sadly Benedict XV later conceded a veto over episcopal candidates to the French government, which they retain.)The Irish Church is going through a really historic period of transition, which could make or break or it. It needs maximum temporal freedom from state intrusion in its constitution and internal affairs.Indeed it would be best for the Irish government to simply break off diplomatic relations with the Vatican completely. By closing their embassy to the Vatican, Irish politicians have already done the Church a massive favour, only they’re too stupid to realize it. Let Irish Catholics be intelligent enough to be one step ahead.

  • Paul Moloney

    “some 96,000 postcards have been sent to Prime Minister Enda Kenny”

    96,000 sounds like an impressive figure. However, before deciding if there’s a “powerful grassroots campaign”, the obvious question to be answered is – how many people sent those postcards?

    The group Ireland Stand Up has a mere – as of today – 289 members on Facebook. Their own website mentions “hundreds of calls” to them. (see note 1) I mean, not bad, but given a country of 4.5 million people of which the vast majority still refer to themselve as “Catholic”, nevermind the fact they ignore most of that church’s teaching on sexual issues, this is hardly indicative of a national movement.

    The Irish Examiner talked about 93% of the public against the move. However, that’s based on a sample of 100 (yes, 100) emails sent to the Foreign Minister. Now, it’s a long time since I did statistics in college, but (a) that’s a very small sample, and (b) it’s a completely self-selecting sample – people tend to write to politicians to complain, not to congratulate them. Again, if less than 100 people can be moved to email on an issue, this is hardly a groundswell.

    (In contrast, a petition against an Irish equivalent of the US anti-internet SOPA law got 26,000 signature in _one day_.)

    William gives some figures above on church attendance, However, where a Vatican embassy is concerned, Catholics’ attitude to the hierarchy and the Vatican itself are probably more indicative. And according to a survey by the Iona Institute, a conversative right-wing Catholic think-tank (see note 2), only 27% of the public have a favourable view of the Church, and only 1 in 5 consider the government’s attitude “hostile” to the Church (this was after the right-wing Catholic Taoiseach Enda Kenny excoriated the Vatican in his now famous speech to parliament).



  • Oconnord

    I too hope the pope visits Ireland, if for a different reason. I remember the the last pope’s visit in 1979, I was 6 and my parent’s brought me to the mass in the Phoenix Park. My main memory is of Dublin being a ghost town. The streets were empty of people, businesses were closed and there was no traffic except for the stream of buses ferrying 1.25 million people to the park. Of the mass itself I remember little except the crowds and being brought for communion with my then agnostic, now atheist father. In those days for many people mass was a duty, if not a chore. It was something you just did once a week as my father did for many years.

    I expect the next visit, if it happens to be markedly different. But then so does Ireland Stand Up, as they show by their choice of venue, Croke Park. Their choice of venue, an 85,000 capacity enclosed venue shows they realise two things. Firstly if it was held in an open to all venue, the reduced attendance would be a sure sign of the general fall of catholicism  in Ireland. And secondly it reduces the visibility of the inevitable protests against the pope which would would have been unimaginable in 1979.

  • Martin Neary

    Kenny’s speech and Gilmore’s decision were major political mistakes which showed that the coalition was out of touch with the vast majority of the Irish electorate. Their subsequent decisions have confirmed their political naivety. Only an utterly inept opposition can win them the next election.

  • Poppy Tupper

    Pope Benedict’s visit to England was a resounding success, but it certainly hasn’t led to a great regeneration of the church. Even the Ordinariate project has floundered, as you yourself have acknowledged.

  • Jackie

    A small section of irish society are angry about the closure of the embassy to the holy see,an opposing section are very happy about it and the rest of us don’t care one way or another.I suspect the government knows this.
    The government has more pressing matters to worry about as has most of the rest of us.I hope they are not browbeaten into a change of policy if they really do feel it would save money. 96,000 protest postcards might sound like a significant amount but is really not an awful lot out of the approximately 3.5 million catholics in Ireland.

  • theroadmaster

    Tim Fischer, the very well respected Australian diplomat who has just recently moved on from his ambassadorial role at the Vatican, stated that the Irish government made a serious blunder in downgrading their mission to the Vatican.  Seasoned observers of the Vatican’s relationship with nations around the world, recognize that this decision was politically motivated and do not buy the line that it was taken as part of a cost-cutting exercise in order to prioritize the value for money 
    overseas  missions .  The Holy See has an unparalleled global network of contacts through it’s own nuncios and organizations both religious and lay-led on the ground.  To dispense with such an invaluable resource, is tantamount to a blatant disregard for the etiquette  of International diplomacy and a display of political illiteracy. The spiritual dimension should not be lost in this, when one considers the iconic relationship that has existed between the Holy See and Ireland for many centuries.  In fact, the setting up of the ambassadorship to the Vatican was one of the first acts by the government of the Republic of Ireland in terms of formalizing diplomatic contacts with other countries in the 1920′s.   The lay-led initiatives to reverse this depressing but predictable act of the current Irish government are encouraging signs for the future of the potential of the lobbying power of Irish Catholics.

  • TreenonPoet

    Based on this report, Catholics should consider the papal visit to Scotland and England to have been a failure. Certainly, secularists (whom the Pope criticised almost as soon as he had stepped of the plane) might be forgiven for considering the visit to be a disaster. The Pope is still at it. In his recent speech to world diplomats, his blaming of secularists for the world’s ills reminded me of Hitler’s blaming of the Jews for Germany’s ills. Do you measure success by the degree with which he gets away with that sort of speech with impunity?

    Or perhaps you admire the way he incites hatred of LGBT people?

    Or the way he metaphorically raises two fingers at victims of priestly child abuse?

    I would agree with your intimation that a papal visit to Ireland would be unlikely to enhance the popularity of the RCC.

  • Canis

    Why are so many anti-Catholic people commenting on a Catholic website? I’m guessing it has something to do with subconscious yearning/angst.

  • TreenonPoet

    Anti-Catholic or anti-bad-ideas?

    If someone disagrees with an idea presented on this website, where is the best place for them to respond?

    In my case, the incentive is not angst but anger, and a yearning for a world that could be so much better if it were not that certain bad ideas persist, the worst of which might be that religious faith is somehow virtuous. The lauding of irrationality can have such dire consequences that it should be opposed at every opportunity. Sites such as this, while presenting many bad ideas, are to be commended for their acceptance of adverse comments.

  • Lazarus

    From the survey you link to:The UK should guard against aggressive forms of secularism:Strongly Agree/Agree: 62%Strongly Disagree/Disagree: 16%

  • TreenonPoet

    A secularist who behaves aggressively is not reflecting the philosophy of secularism (which is based on fairness). Is there an aggressive form of fairness? If there is, the UK should guard against it.

    But the Pope does not want fairness. He wants privileges for Catholics, and regards any attempt to remove those privileges (even if only by force of reasoned argument) as aggression. The word ‘aggressive’, in its mildest sense at least, is applicable to the party unfairly claiming special privileges, not to the party that wants justice.

  • South Saxon

    Oppositions do not win elections: governments lose them.

  • Dave Leahy

    May I add that the Labour Party will also endeavour to have abortion freely available if it gets its way.

  • Paul Moloney

    This simply isn’t true. Enda Kenny’s poll rating shot up after his speech:

    The minority of Catholics who are “Vatican, right or wrong” ultra-Catholics are the ones who are out of touch, even with other Catholics. Even the conservative think-tank Iona Institute admits this _in their own survey_.


  • Anonymous

    “unprecedented attack on the Catholic Church in general and the Vatican”

    ## No: a justified, and mild, & *genuinely* prophetic rebuke of great evils. Love of the Church is not the same as cossetting & defending corruption & evil in it, which are things that harm & deform it. New Evangelisation ? If only. He was *defending* the Church, which is not the tiny minority of its membership who wear mitres, stoles, habits, and the like. Papal shame, however genuine and heart-felt, is not enough; there has to be conversion, of us *all*, *not* of the laity alone. “Business as usual” cannot be an option. Righteousness matters more than the ego of the Vatican; just as faithfulness to the covenant mattered more in God’s eyes than the security of Jerusalem, its kings, the Temple, & the priests. If God condemned His own People to exile through Nebuchadnezzar, why should He look with favour on a Church that is ruled by men who put the institutional Church before the good of its members ? The Church *cannot* use God’s promises to it as a shield against His righteous demands of us: God is not mocked: not by individuals, certainly not by the Vatican.

    He did not attack the Church, but an evil that has wronged the Church. The question is how the savings that would be made by closing the embassy will be made now. The Apostles needed no such things – why do we ? The Vatican & its worldly pomps and vanities could collapse in ruins, and the Church would be unharmed. If the CC vanished tomorrow, God could raise up a Church from the stones. Simples. God is great, & only God – the Vatican is nothing.